Top 5 World Cup villains of the 21st century
June 18, 2014
We knew there was something about the name Diego we didn't trust, but we couldn't put our finger on the reason why until now.
Remember Diego Maradona's 1986 'Hand of God' goal? Remember Diego Simeone's complete overreaction to David Beckham's petulant flick in the 1998 World Cup? Of course you do, and frankly we're sick to the back teeth of hearing about them, so we've decided to forget about ancient history and round up our top five World Cup villains of the current century.
The South Africa World Cup in 2010 is the only time the competition has ever been held in Africa, and the whole world was hoping that the African teams would do their continent proud. Ghana certainly did, as they eased through their group, then knocked out the US in the round of 16 to set up a quarter final tie with Uruguay. Going into the match, there was huge hope among the neutrals that the Ghanians, as the last African team remaining in the competition, would progress.
But Uruguay, and especially Luis Suarez, had other ideas. With the match evenly poised at 1-1 and heading into a penalty shootout, a last-minute goalmouth scramble resulted in Ghana's Dominic Adiyiah beating the Uruguay goalkeeper with a header, only for panto villain Suarez to intentionally punch the ball off the line.
Obviously Suarez was sent off and Ghana were awarded a penalty; if scored, it would have put them through to the semi finals. However, Asamoah Gyan, who now plays in the UAE for Al Ain, crashed his kick onto the crossbar and over. Cue wild celebrations from Suarez, who, against not only the rules but also undoubtedly the spirit of the game, had remained pitchside to see the result of the penalty.
Despite Gyan going some way to atone for his error by scoring in the resultant penalty shootout, misses from John Mensah and, in another cruel twist of fate, Adiyiah, left Uruguay's Sebastián Abreu to dink in his kick and send the African nation crashing out. Suarez has hardly attempted to clear his name since the incident, with a bite on Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic and allegations of racism towards Manchester United's Patrice Evra, he's cemented his place as one of the game's ultimate bad boys.
Watch his heinous handball:
Nigel de Jong
The 2010 World Cup final saw a dogged Netherlands side meet a Spain team at the height of its powers. The Spanish tiki-taka generation was dominating the game, and the weapon the Netherlands had to combat it was pure, unadulterated force. Despite Spain's attempts to create a quick tempo with lots of intricate passes, the well-drilled Netherlands side broke up the match and turned it into an extremely scrappy encounter. In fact, the match smashed the previous record of six bookings in a World Cup final, with the two teams sharing 14 yellows, with an incredible nine for the Netherlands, and one red - for Dutchman Johnny Heitinga.
If the Dutch had a game plan of intimidating the Spanish - which they obviously did - it was working. And they had the perfect player for such a task: Nigel de Jong. Nicknamed 'der Rasenmäher', or 'the Lawnmower', de Jong is famous for his industrial style of play, often leaving his opponents in a crumpled heap on the floor. And it was in the first half of the match when he launched one of his signature assaults on Spain's creative midfielder, Xabi Alonso. As the ball bounced up in front of the Spaniard, de Jong clattered into him, delivering what can only be described as a brutal karate kick to Alonso's chest.
Somehow referee Howard Webb deemed the challenge to be only a yellow card, and de Jong the destroyer remained on the pitch to continue with his hatchet job on the Spanish midfield. Thankfully after a long, hard game that went to extra time, Spain's craft finally prevailed and Andres Iniesta made the breakthrough that saw them take the match 1-0 and lift the World Cup. Meanwhile, de Jong continued in his evil ways for his club side Manchester City, going on to break Newcastle midfielder Hatem Ban Arfa's leg that season.
Watch his World Cup horror tackle - if you can even call it a tackle - here:
Why is it that so many amazing players let themselves down with unnecessary theatrics that amount to downright cheating? One such player was Rivaldo, a Brazilian maestro who was capable of doing magical things with a football but could also do some pretty disgraceful things on the pitch, too.
Perhaps his most high-profile moment of disgrace, and one that perhaps sums up the Brazilian as a player, came in Brazil's opening match of the 2002 World Cup against Turkey. Late in the game, after putting in a man of the match performance, including scoring the goal that put Brazil 2-1 ahead, Rivaldo was waiting by the corner flag to receive the ball. Turkish player Hakan Ünsal, kicked the ball to him, only for Rivaldo to let the ball hit him in knee and then promptly hit the deck holding his face.
The referee, who hadn't seen the incident, saw Rivaldo on the floor holding his face, put two and two together, made five and decided to send Ünsal off. They say cheats never prosper but on that day they did, as Brazil went on to win the World Cup while Rivaldo was fined a paltry $7,350 - not even a day's wages.
Watch Rivaldo's Oscar-worthy performance:
What were we just saying about fantastic players letting themselves down? Well, as players go, you don't get much more fantastic than Zinedine Zidane. A World and European champion with France and winner of numerous national titles in Italy and Spain with Juventus and Real Madrid respectively, Zizou, as he's affectionately known, is up there as one of the best players of all time. Unfortunately however, his glittering career ended in disgrace as he was sent off in his final match, the final of the 2006 World Cup. The match saw France take on Italy and a tense game went into extra time after finishing 1-1, with Zidane himself and Italy's Marco Materazzi scoring the goals. Funnily enough, it was the the same men who were involved in the incident that the game will always be remembered for.
In the 110th minute, as Zidane and Materazzi were jogging up the pitch close to each other, the cheeky Italian said what we now know was an insult about Zidane's sister, and it's fair to say the Frenchman took the words to heart. Casting aside the fact that he was playing in a World Cup final with millions watching around the globe, he defended his sister's honour by delivering a powerful head-butt to Materazzi's chest (view main image).
[caption id="attachment_3587" align="aligncenter" width="961"] No-one's quite sure why Qatar decided to immortalise Zizou's headbutt.
Fair play to Zidane for defending his sister, but doing it in the World Cup final and letting his country down in the process probably wasn't the best idea. Of course, he was sent off and Italy went on to win the match, and the World Cup, on penalties, while Zidane retired from the game. However his moment of madness lived on briefly in Qatar, where the tiny Gulf state inexplicably decided to erect a statue depicting the scene. It was swiftly removed after its unveiling.
Watch Zizou's final act in professional football:
There must have been something in the air in 2006, because earlier in the tournament, in the quarter finals to be precise, England were dumped out on penalties to Portugal - a side that was quickly becoming something of a bogey team for the English - and the match saw a youthful Cristiano Ronaldo get his Manchester United teammate, Wayne Rooney, sent off in the process.
To be fair, Rooney had displayed the kind of petulance he's famous for by stomping on the Portuguese defender Ricardo Carvalho (and right between his legs too - ouch!). But although the referee had given a foul, it didn't look like Rooney was in much trouble, that is until Ronaldo came steaming into picture to remonstrate with the referee. That was all the persuasion the ref needed and he promptly sent Rooney off.
Unfortunately, that kind of misdemeanor happens all the time in modern-day football, so on its own it wouldn't be worthy of this list. However, the real act of villainy came as Ronaldo's club teammate was trudging off the pitch. As the camera focused in on the Portuguese, Ronaldo fired a sly wink in the direction of the bench, as if to acknowledge the vital role he played in getting Rooney sent off.
Fortunately for Ronaldo, once the World Cup was over, Rooney forgave him and the incident blew over as everyone was captivated by how well the two linked up for their club.
Watch BBC Match of the Day's take on the incident: