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Top Five World Cup Villains

With so much talk about the misdemeanors of a certain Uruguayan man’s footballing dietary habits today we have a look at villains from the past and present who have shocked the world and turned a few nations against them. Only on-pitch incidents can be considered so we don’t have to open up the Saipan debate, life is just too short for that…

5:  The Shame of Gijon

There are no less than two teams worth of villains associated with this, one of the most infamous acts of match fixing of all time. World Cup ’82 had some major flash points throughout the tournament but this  has left a bad an ill feeling in the world of football for generations.

An inexperienced Algeria side were making their World Cup debut, and found themselves in a group with Austria, Chile and European Champions West Germany. Little was expected from the fennec foxes, their first match was against the Germans, with a landslide victory expected for the Europeans. West Germany boasted big names in football from Lothar Matthaus, Felix Magath and captain, and current Bayern Munich chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

To say that Rummenigge and his men were cocky was an understatement, with one player commenting that he would play the match with a cigar, and another saying he would dedicate his 7th goal to his wife and his 8th to his dog. Germany didn’t even bother researching the Algerian team, who had beaten Real Madrid and the Republic of Ireland in the warm up. In the end, Algeria caused one of the greatest upsets in footballing history with a thoroughly convincing 2-1 win.

Based on the ability the Algerians showed in their loss to Austria and strong win against Chile, they looked set to be the first African team through the group stage. The only way they would fail to qualify was if Germany won their final match, played a day later than Algeria’s. The only way Austria could qualify was if they only lost by a single goal. It is here that the villainy began, the German and Austrian players had agreed to ‘fix’ the match to ensure to the two European teams went through at the cost of the deserving Algerians.

The Germans scored after ten minutes, and for the rest of the match, both teams were happy to pass around, barley sprint and watch the clock run down. This act took all that was beautiful in football and ripped it apart, even the German football fans protested outside the team hotel, only to have water balloons thrown at them by the players. While there were cries to have the match replayed were quashed by Fifa they did rule that the final games of the group stage would be played simultaneously to ensure this never happened again.

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4: Harald Schumacher

The West Germans of ’82 were not a very nice bunch were they? None more so than goalkeeper Harald Schumacher. Five years before Suarez even existed ‘Toni’ was questionably fouling players in a fashion that bordered on the insane.

In the 1982 semi final against France, Patrick Battiston came on as a second half substitute, little did he know ten minutes later he would be in a coma. Prior to the incident, Platini released a wonderful through ball that put Battiston one on one with Schumacher. The Goalie rushed out, but when the shot was taken, he did not go for the ball, instead he turned his body towards the onrushing Frenchman and clattered into him.

No booking or free kick was awarded for what looks like an a quite intentional act that caused serious harm.

Battiston was knocked out cold and had to be given oxygen on the pitch. In the end, from the collision with the german’s hip, he lost his two font teeth, suffered damage to his vertebrae and was in a coma for a short time. Platini commented that he was certain his countryman was dead because ‘he had no pulse and was so pale’. Schumacher became more of a villain in his post match comments. When he was told that Battiston had lost teeth, he quipped,

‘If that’s all that is wrong with him, I’ll pay for his crowns.”

While Harald seldom comments on the incident he has maintained that it was not a fouled and that he was going for the ball. After this and his dodgy dealings at the expense of the Algerians, it seems only fitting that Schumacher and his teammates would go on to lose the World Cup final twice in a row.

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3:Diego Maradona

No matter how old you are, or how much of a football fan you are, everyone knows about the Hand of God. Maradona is arguably the first anti-hero of the World Cup and he was the player to watch at the ’86 World Cup. The World Cup can be summed up by his semi-final appearance against England.

A few minutes into the second half, Maradona was dictating play and after some good play, he found himself running on to a highball in the box, with Peter Shilton coming out to clear it. Even though Diego is over half a foot smaller than England’s most capped player, he was first to reach it and got the ball into the back of the net, albeit due to his hand. Maradona has told of how he had to make his teammates come over and congratulate with him, or else the referee might get suspicious.

While his first goal cemented his place as public enemy no. 1 in England, his second made him a hero to everyone who loves the beautiful game. The dichotomy between the blatant cheating and his  amazing ability made him one of the most interesting villains in World Cup history. With all his ability he doesn’t need to act badly, but he did, and continued to do so throughout his career. While he never repeated his Hand of God escapades, he did regularly tarnish his reputation; with on-pitch fights and a long relationship with substance abuse.

His addictions further made him a World Cup villain in ’94. At the age of 34, Maradona had made somewhat of a comeback to play in the tournament. he only played two matches, scoring one goal. But it is his celebrations that are best remembered. His wide eyed aggressive celebration could have been caused by his excitement at scoring for his country, or the fact that he was using banned substances. Diego failed a subsequent drug test and was sent home in disgrace, as Argentina were then knocked out at the second round.

While his actions warrant villain status, he is still held in such high regard all over the world. In his home country he is a borderline deity and after all of his poor behavior at World Cups, he was appointed manager for the last World Cup, where he selected players based on dreams that he had and was sacked acrimoniously after the tournament.

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2: Zinedine Zidane

Like Maradona, Zinedine Zidane is another hero/Villain at the World Cup. In ’98 Zidane put on one of the greatest performances of any player in a World Cup final. A player who was at times criticized for not working hard, Zidane literally pulled every string, unlocked every defense and scored two goals that gave France their greatest day in football.

Injury restricted Zidane’s involvement in France’s disastrous 2002 World Cup. After the tournament, Zidane announced his retirement, only to be urged to return for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He duly accepted and was made captain. The prodigal son of French football was amazing in Germany, earning the golden ball as the best player of the tournament before the final. Against Italy, everything seemed to be in place.

This was to be Zidane’s final game in his entire career, having retired from club football before the tournament. In the final, France had the better chances but failed to capitalize. A penalty from Zidane and an equalizer from Marco Materazzi had both teams at a stalemate. In extra time, in the 110th minute the entire world was shocked by what they had seen. After what had appeared to be some simple shirt pulling and words exchanged between the two goal scorers, Zidane turned around and planted his bald head right into the chest of Materazzi. Zidane was sent off and France lost to Italy on penalties.

What makes this such a villainous act is that it destroyed the ultimate footballing fairy tale and also damaged Zidane’s legacy. In his final match as a footballer he had the capacity to lift the World Cup for his country. There wouldn’t have been a more fitting way for such a great player to end his career. Instead he destroyed this dream, and while he was forgiven by France almost immediately, one cannot help but feel the injustice his actions brought out. For a player who spent his career performing on another planet, he is now best remembered for what he did with his head and not his feet.

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1: Luis Suarez

We cannot argue that Luis Suarez is one of the best players in the world today, and has been impressive wherever he has been. In the previous World Cup he was part of the extremely impressive Uruguay side that impressed all the way to third place. The attacking trio of Suarez, Cavani and Forlán terrorized defenses and got to the  quarter finals.

It is here the villainy began. Against Ghana, the final remaining African team, Uruguay were against an entire continent’s hopes. Ghana nearly, and probably should have, reached the semi-finals if it wasn’t for Suarez. With the deciding goal flying into Uruguay’s net, Suarez did the unthinkable and blocked the ball with his hands. He was sent off and broke down into tears. Gyan had a penalty in the last second to win the match, but sadly he missed. In the tunnel, upon hearing the penalty was missed, the inconsolable Suarez began jumping around with joy. His cheating had paid off.

In a recent article, I wrote that one of the things we all wanted to see the back of was this Suarez. We all wanted him to let his football do the talking and not get get caught up in another controversy.

Although he was injured for the first match, his two goals against England seemed to say that Suarez meant business. However, his most recent biting scandal has yet again made him a villain in the World Cup. A four month worldwide ban demonstrates how much patience Fifa has for a repeat offender. Suarez could have easily have been the shining star at this World Cup but instead we are left seeing him as a cartoon villain. Suarez is actively leaving a legacy of ‘what could have been’ for himself when he could have easily been a player that went down as one of the greats.

Jason Dundon, Pundit Arena.

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