The IMAGO Archive over the years bears witness to some of the greatest moments in World Cup history, but it also contains the drama, blood, tears and red cards. Providing you with photo-evidence of these ‘crime scenes,’ we have broken down and ranked some of the most controversial and shocking moments between the world’s greatest footballers. 

10. Cameroon v Argentina | 1990

This match was not only full of fouls including an infamous tackle by Benjamin Massing on Argentina’s Caniggia, but Cameroon’s victory over the star-studded Argentina who was led by Diego Maradona, made World Cup history. 

The assault on Caniggia sent his right boot and a few limbs flying after he had managed to dodge two previous attempts to bring him down. It afforded Massing a red card which was Cameroon’s second red card of the day. ‘I came in on him like a truck,’ admitted Massing after the match, during which Cameroon was consistently showing its teeth. Massing became known for this aggressive tackle and while the match is an example of scrappy playing tactics, it will always be remembered as a moment of glory for the underdogs 

9. Portugal v Brazil | 1966

Being one of the greatest of all time, it is expected to be a target for aggressive defense. Pele of Brazil who had an injured knee from a previous match, returned to the pitch for the final group match against Portugal just to be injured again, arguably on purpose. 

He was kicked in his weak knee by Joao Pinto, who was considered to be Portugal’s Hatchet-man, and was  kicked again as he tried to stand up from the first blow. Hardly walking, Pele played the game through but Brazil was defeated 3-1 and failed to reach the knock-out stages. Brazil being one of the greatest teams of all time, was quite literally brought to its knees because of an injured knee.

8. Portugal v England | 2006 

Watching England’s superstar Wayne Rooney shove Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo who were teammates on Manchester United seems like a cartoon sketch, but it was no laughing matter. Ronaldo having bumped his head into Rooney’s back before the kick off, tension was already in the air. 

Ronaldo’s reaction to Rooney stamping on Ricardo Carvalho led Rooney to shove Ronaldo, as he then was sent off after receiving a red card from referee Horacio Elizondo. Ronaldo then winked at his coaches on the bench and Portugal beat England in penalties, knocking them out of the World Cup at the exact same stage as four years prior. Rooney being known for his short temper and Ronaldo for his sly charm, the altercation exhibited a sort of clash of the titans between the teams’ two star players. 

7. Spain v Netherlands | 2010

You know you’re in trouble when even your greatest legend criticizes your aggressive tactics. After the World Cup final between Spain and Holland, Dutch ex-pro Johan Cruyff accused his team of ‘anti-football’ after nine of the 14 yellow cards were issued to the Netherlands. Even so, referee Howard Webb was still accused of being too lenient.  

After Nigel de Jong karate-kicked Spanish player Xabi Alonso in the chest, his rib was damaged and needed medical treatment before he could continue playing. Still, de Jong did not receive a red card and later said in an interview that Webb likely understood that the kick was an accident. Regardless, as Spain managed to take home the World Cup title winning 1-0 in overtime, the match reminds us of the lessons learned in primary school: violence is never the answer.

6. West Germany v Netherlands | 1990

Not once but twice was Rudi Völler spat on by Dutch opponent Frank Rijkaard. Völler showing the referee that Frank Rijkaard had spit on his golden locks is a photo to remember. Referee Juan Carlos Loustau had given Rijkaard a yellow card after a foul on Völler, which meant he would not play in the quarter finals if the Netherlands were to win. Naturally, he showed his anger by spitting in Völler’s hair from behind. 

A few minutes later, Völler found himself on the ground in a free kick to avoid a collision which invited Rijkaard to pull Völler’s ear and step on his foot as a sort of punishment. And as football players do, the two started to bicker and were both given red cards. They walked off the pitch and on came spit number two by Rijkaard. While he was given the nickname ‘llama,’ Germany won the World Cup against Argentina that year.  

5. France v Italy | 2006 

Zinedine Zidane is known as one of the most famous French footballers — he helped France win the 1998 World Cup, the 2000 European Cup, and brought Juventus to the 1997 and 1998 Champions League final. Later, he became a successful manager for the world-class Real Madrid who won 11 titles under Zidane. Unfortunately, Zidane is also known for his temper. 

Italian player Materazzi had whispered something provocative into Zidane’s ear during the 2006 World Cup final, resulting in a head-butt to the chest which left a dirty stain on Zidane’s decorated reputation. As Materazzi layed on the field, Zidane was sent off in his last international match. While there is no point to bring on the ‘what-ifs’, France then lost the World Cup in penalty shoot-outs without the help of their Zizou (Zidane). 

4. Portugal v Netherlands | 2006 

The claws were out in what many call the ‘Battle of Nuremberg.’ FIFA had been trying to reduce the drama on the pitch that year by urging referees to be harsh on the feistier players. Referee Valentin Ivanov issued a record 16 yellow cards and four red cards, the first yellow going out in the opening two minutes of the match. But it was the second half which saw the most violence.

The game was full of skirmishes but some truly stand out: Luis Figo of Portugal headbutted Mark Van Bommel, Wesley Sneijder shoved Armando Gonçalves Teixeira (aka Petit) in a touchline brawl, Cocu wrestled Deco to the ground escaping penalty, and Giovanni van Bronckhorst was sent off for a second yellow card in injury time — the time added to the match to makeup for injuries. Commentator Gary Bloom described it as the ‘bad boys corner’ when the cameras turned to Bronkhorst, Deco and Boulahrouz who watched the rest of the match from the sidelines — Portugal ended up winning 1-0 and going on to the next round. 

3. Chile v Italy | 1962 

Leading up to what became known as ‘The Battle of Santiago,’ one could already smell the rat. Italian and Chilean journalists were trash-talking each other in the press before the match, with some even having to flee Chile and one getting beaten up in a bar. The tension and animosity gave referee Ken Aston a run for his money — kicks that weren’t directed towards the ball, punches, tackles, spitting, a broken nose for Humberto Maschio by Leonal Sanchez and even police intervention on multiple occasions. As they tried to dismantle the fights, they ended up escorting players like Italian forward Giorgio Ferrini off the field. 

Chile won 2-0, and Aston was later appointed Head of Refereeing for the 1966 World Cup in England for his poise in handling the battle of Santiago. While the match was more of a brawl than a sporting event, its impact changed the sport forever: Aston later went on to invent the red and yellow card whilst waiting at a traffic light. 

2. France v Germany | 1982

A coma, 2 knocked out teeth and 3 cracked ribs — goalkeeper Herald or ‘Toni’ Schumacher was in a fit of rage. France and Germany were tied 3-3 in the semi-final as France’s Battiston was heading straight for the goal before Germany’s Schumacher essentially assaulted him. A ‘collision’ which caused a six-month recovery period for Battiston. He lay unconscious and his teammate Platini (also the captain) who held and kissed his limp hand as he was carried off on a stretcher, claimed that he had no pulse. 

Referee Charles Corver was following the ball and saw none of what had happened, but his assistant argued that the attack seemed unintentional and no penalty was issued. Regardless, the impact was strong enough to cause a chilling ripple in the history of violent World Cup confrontations. 

1. Colombia v United States | 1994 

While this altercation happened off the pitch and after the match, it is by far the most tragic. Andres Escobar of Colombia was shot to death in his home-city of Medellin after scoring on his own team. This fatal accident gave the US a 1-0 lead which they brought to 2-1, eliminating Colombia from the tournament. Escober was in fact a defender, and deflected a ball from midfielder John Harkes which landed into the goal — a goal which cost him his life. Humberto Castro Munoz who was allegedly bodyguard and driver for members of the Colombian drug cartel, pleaded guilty to the murder and was charged with 23 years in prison, but was released after 11.

Before his death, Escober gave a gripping speech encouraging his fans to move on because “life does not end here,” he said. Unfortunately for him it did, and as over 120,000 people attended his funeral, the legacy of the ‘gentleman of the field’ as many called him, serves as a reminder that football is in fact just a game. 

Written by Columnist Sofia Bergmann for our Short Series in the run up to One Year to The World Cup 2022. We will be publishing an article each day this week to celebrate One Year Until Qatar 2022.

                                                    See the article’s full, curated image collection here.