Wondering what the weirdest World Cup moments are? Jon O'Brien looks back at 7 strange moments from the last hundred years
The World Cup is supposed to showcase the beautiful game at its finest. But often it’s the mishaps, mistakes and moments of sheer insanity that stick in the memory longer than any remarkable display of skill.
"Often it’s the mishaps, mistakes and moments of sheer insanity that stick in the memory"
Ahead of perhaps the biggest curio in the tournament’s history—a winter staging in a country with unbearably high temperatures, a distinct lack of football heritage and most problematic of all, a questionable human rights record—here’s a look at seven other occasions when the quest for that famous Jules Rimet trophy took a turn for the truly bizarre.
1. Dog invades pitch (Chile, 1962)
Jimmy Greaves was once the England team’s all-time highest goal scorer (and he remains Tottenham’s). But for some, his Three Lions career was defined just as much by his dog-handling skills as his strike rate.
While competing against Brazil in a quarter-final that sadly ended in defeat, the forward impressively managed to capture a canine that had interrupted play by wandering onto the pitch. Greaves even got on his hands and knees to connect with the pooch, who then expressed his gratitude by urinating down the footballer’s shirt.
“I smelt so bad, it was awful,” Greaves later admitted. “But at least it meant the Brazilian defenders stayed clear of me!”
2. Mwepu Ilunga’s time-wasting (West Germany, 1974)
Zaire only graced the World Cup once, but Mwepu Ilunga ensured they’d forever become a part of tournament folklore. Already 2–0 down to reigning champions Brazil in their final game, the debutants conceded an 80th minute free kick just outside the box. But, determined to prevent Jairzinho and Rivellino from working their magic (if only for seconds), Ilunga prematurely broke free from the defensive wall before hoofing the ball towards the opposite end.
Baffled commentator John Motson naively assumed the Zairean had simply forgotten the rules. Ilunga later claimed, though, that it was a deliberate ploy to get red carded in a protest about payment. Unfortunately, he was only booked.
3. The royal protest (Spain, 1982)
This remarkable, if utterly pointless, protest eight years later did work. Alain Giresse looked to have put France 4–1 up against Kuwait before the minnows ambushed the referee claiming they’d stopped play on hearing a whistle which had actually emerged from the crowd.
Initially unaffected by all the calls to disallow the goal, the official changed his mind when a member of Kuwaiti royalty, Sheikh Fahad al-Ahmed, invaded the pitch to bring the players off.
Much to France’s amazement, Giresse’s strike was subsequently struck off the scoresheet. Fahad later apologised to Michel Platini for the interference which, thanks to Maxime Bossis’ late goal, proved to be entirely inconsequential anyway.
4. The Disgrace of Gijón (Spain, 1982)
West Germany and Austria’s unsportsmanlike behaviour was so suspicious that FIFA subsequently changed the final group game rules.
"Both parties denied foul play but even their own supporters accused them of bringing the game into disrepute"
With second-placed Algeria beating Chile 3–2 the day before, the Europeans started their Group 2 closer knowing a 1–0 West Germany win would help both progress at the Africans’ expense. And after Horst Hrubesch put the two-time winners in the lead after just ten minutes, the match essentially crawled to a standstill as players repeatedly passed back to their goalkeepers, drifted aimless long balls into the opposing half and seemingly became allergic to tackling.
Both parties denied foul play but even their own supporters accused them of bringing the game into disrepute.
5. Diana Ross’ penalty miss (USA, 1994)
It’s almost poetic that USA 1994 started and ended with a penalty miss from a wild-haired icon. Several weeks before Italy’s famously pony-tailed Roberto Baggio skyrocketed his crucial shoot-out spot-kick over the bar, Diana Ross fluffed her one and only chance to score from 12 yards out.
The former Supremes miss, which nevertheless still magically split the goalposts into two during an opening ceremony which also boasted appearances from Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton, might not have cost her country the World Cup. But it was a clear sign that the host nation hadn’t quite grasped that football (or should that be soccer?) and razzmatazz don’t necessarily mix.
6. Josip Šimunić’s three bookings (Germany, 2006)
English referee Graham Poll returned from Germany 2006 with his reputation in tatters after appearing to lose the ability to count during a hotly contested encounter between Croatia and Australia.
The drama began in the 90th minute when the former's Josip Šimunić received a second booking. That should have signalled the end of the defender’s game time, obviously. But with Poll failing to produce the red card, Šimunić was essentially allowed to play the last few minutes.
Things got even stranger when the dissenting Croatian pushed his luck a bit too far and picked up an unprecedented third yellow card (and overdue dismissal) at the final whistle.
7. USA trainer knocks himself out with chloroform (Uruguay, 1930)
But you have to go all the way back to the inaugural tournament in Uruguay in 1930 for the most calamitous moment in World Cup history. During the USA’s bad-tempered semi-final encounter with Argentina, physio Jack Coll ran onto the pitch to treat an injured American.
"Rather embarrassingly, he tripped on his way and subsequently had to be carried off the pitch"
Rather embarrassingly, he tripped on his way, breaking a chloroform container stored in his medical bag in the process. Having also inhaled the fumes, an unconscious Coll subsequently had to be carried off the pitch.
To add insult to injury, his side were thumped 6–1, while it was later discovered that midfielder Ralph Tracy had played much of the first half with a broken leg.
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