Ok, I know America’s been knocked out and soccer has fallen back to it’s former U.S. status of “That game children play at summer camp” but there’s a reason that the rest of the world worships this game. We may say it’s because of soccer’s beautiful set-pieces, inspiring teamwork and sport bringing different cultures together but it’s mostly because crazy stuff like this occasionally happens.
1. Zinedine Zidane’s Apocalyptic Headbutt
Zinedine Zidane’s road to the 2002 World Cup reads like the plot to an Disney underdog movie. Already a national hero in his native France for scoring two goals in the 1998 World Cup final, the 34-year-old was dragged out of retirement by the French coach to bolster his country’s flagging team. Zidane went on to drag his rag-tag team (of millionaire, world-class athletes) almost singlehandedly into the finals against Italy.
Yeah, things were going pretty well for Zidane. He’d been awarded player of the tournament already going into the final when he became one of only four people to have ever scored in two different World Cup finals. It’s hard to explain the scale of this achievement to non-soccer fans but it would be like scoring a touchdown in two separate Super-Bowls, if the Super-Bowl only ever occurred every four years and was actually played against the rest of the globe.
So it was more than a little surprising, in the 110th minute, Zidane attempted to headbutt Italian defender Marco Materazzi to death. Actually, “headbutt” is too mild a word; he looked like he was trying to see what Materazzi’s lungs smelled like. Materazzi still gets chest pains every time Zidane gets a headache.
Zidane was immediately red carded and sent off but only because FIFA officials don’t yet have the power to charge somebody for attempted murder. France went on to lose the game. The Frenchman later admitted that he’d lost control when the Italian defender had made fun of his sister. We’re sure avenging that slight was worth losing a World Cup final.
Still, the world was quick to let Zidane know that that sort of behavior is unacceptable… by commissioning a 16-foot statue reproducing the incident.
2. De Jong’s Mortal Kombat Kick
The 2010 World Cup final between Holland and Spain was the dirtiest final in FIFA history. The referee issued an insane 14 yellow cards over 90 minutes. The last person to do that much damage with cards was Gambit. Nine of those yellow cards (and one red) went to Holland because they showed up like they forgot which sport they were supposed to play and guessed UFC.
Seriously, the men of the Netherlands went into each tackle like they were trying to take a Spanish femur home as a trophy. It was such a hideous display of unsportsmanship by people in orange that Donald Trump got an erection half the world away.
Things came to an absolute head in the first half when Dutch midfielder Nigel De Jong decided to abandon all pretense of actually playing soccer and just straight up kung fu kicked Xabi Alonso. That’s less of an exaggeration than you think, both players went for a high ball and De Jong just casually took out the Spaniard with a cleats-out flying kick. It was an act so violent that I expected the words “Fatality!” to spontaneously form in the air behind him after he landed.
And he wasn’t even sent off? The referee was presented to the closest thing we’re going to see to a real life Shadow Kick and thought a stern talking-to would suffice.
3. Rivaldo’s dive
Diving and soccer are almost synonymous at this stage. If you played a World Cup drinking game where you took a shot every time a striker acted out Boromir’s death scene from Lord of the Rings after somebody ran too close to them…well, you’d be the only one in need of serious medical attention.
The fact of the matter is that diving is always going to be a part of the game. Do it right and you get a penalty, do it wrong and well…there’s always next time or the time after that.
The most shameless dive occurred during the group stages of the 2002 World Cup in match between Brazil and Turkey. Brazilian striker Rivaldo was probably the best player in the World Cup but his skill was only rivaled by his douchbaggery. He’d already dived once in the penalty box, a move that got an opposing player sent off and allowed him to put his team ahead with a penalty but the true dick move occurred in stoppage time.
Rivaldo was up to take a corner and was running out the clock by making no attempt to get the ball and, you know, actually play the game. A frustrated Turkish player kicked the ball at Rivaldo and hit him on the calf…at which point Rivaldo dropped to the turf, clutching his face as if he’d just been shot in the head by a sniper.
Haskan Unsal could only stand disbelievingly as he was sent off for kicking a football at someone’s leg; which you might recognize as the dictionary definition of his job. Turkey ended up losing.
The joke might have been on Rivaldo in the long run though. I wasn’t kidding about him being an insanely talented player. He scored 34 goals for Brazil in his career, was named FIFA player of the year and his “best goals” tribute video is nine damn minutes long but all he’s remembered for these days is as “the guy that can’t tell his leg from his face.”
4. Schumacher’s hip puts opponent into a coma
Like most things in life for true madness in soccer we have to go back to the 1980s. Back then, men were men, football boots weights 20lbs each and the only diving that was done was into a vat of beer after each game but in a 1982 World Cup game between France and Germany a genuine attempted murder occurred.
French player Patrick Battiston had managed an impressive breakaway and had only the keeper to beat in order to score. Unfortunately Battiston, reasonably, didn’t count on goalkeeper Harald Schumacher running out of his goal and performing a jumping hip check into Battiston’s face. It was the finest example of German aggression since finish your own obvious joke here.
I’ve seen NFL tackles with less overt violence. Battiston had two teeth knocked clean out of his head, damaged several vertebrae and, oh yeah, was knocked into a honest-to-God coma! He had to be given oxygen on the pitch because–and I can’t stress this enough–he’d been hit so hard that he’d stopped breathing.
After Battiston was stretchered off (you know, to his coma) Schumacher was red-carded and…actually no, not only was the goalkeeper in no way reprimanded but the referee didn’t even give possession of the ball back to France because, if Battiston wasn’t prepared to deal with a serious head injury then he shouldn’t have taken up football in the first place apparently.
5. Fastest sending off in World Cup history
Like I mentioned, football in the ’80s was a different, and dare I say it?–better sport than it is today since it mainly consisted of dudes with perms and mullets trying to cripple one another. Going by video evidence alone, it seemed to be pretty hard to get sent off in the ’80s. You could walk up to your opposing number and slash a razorblade across his face and the ref would merely give you a quiet word about keeping that stuff until the post-game cocaine party.
That made Jose Batista’s sending off in Uruguay’s 1986 World Cup match against Scotland so notable. Well, that and the fact that it occurred less than a minute into the game. Yes, just 56 seconds into the game Batista mistook Gordon Strachan’s Achilles tendon for the ball and went in with a two footed tackle that made orthopedic surgeons throughout the world aroused.
As Strachan was stretchered off to have his leg sawed off, or whatever passed for medical care in the ’80s, Batista was utterly shocked to find that he’d been red carded. His surprise was merited, I mean, Strachan wasn’t even in a coma.
6. Luis Suárez–World class footballer and people-biter
I couldn’t write an article about World Cup insanity and not mention Luis Suarez. Suarez is the Tom Brady of football insanity, if instead of throwing footballs he just would not stop biting people. His World Cup incident occurred late last month when during Urugay’s match against Italy, Suarez got into an altercation with Italian defender Giorigio Chellini and decided to solve it by sinking his teeth into the Italian’s shoulder. After Chellini realized that, yes, a grown man was enthusiastically gnawing at his torso he raised the referee’s attention at which point Suarez panicked and…dropped to the ground holding his teeth.
No-one’s entirely sure what Luis’s gameplan there was, maybe he was planning on saying that Chellini had visciously attacked him by offensively jumping into his mouth. Either way it didn’t work because Suarez was given a hefty ban and kicked out of Brazil entirely. If that seems harsh but the fact is that this wasn’t his first offense. Hell, it wasn’t even his second.
He’s bitten three people in his professional career, once against Chelsea when playing for Liverpool and once again when playing for Ajax against Einhoven. That is….that’s just too many people for a human adult to have bitten. It’s like he learned all his conflict resolution skills from a pack of feral dogs.
The scary thing is that those are just the three people that we know he’s bitten because he was being filmed at the time. Imagine how many people he’s bitten in his day-to-day life.
I think it might be time to consider the possibility that Luis Suarez is a wendigo.
Richy Craven is a sophisticated machine for turning whiskey into regrettable life-choices. You can check out more of his stuff over at Cracked, A Series of Terrible Decisions or, if you like mediocre jokes about Batman and Game of Thrones, follow him on Twitter.