No sport is ever free of controversy surrounding debatable refereeing decisions and football is no exception. In the last decade and before, we have seen several wrongs and unfair refereeing decisions which have caused massive consequences on games as well as tournaments. In this article, we will take a lot at eight such incidents, which required little debate regarding their accuracy and possess a consensus of being labelled as “disaster decisions”
Kieran Gibbs’ mistaken identity case
On 22nd March 2014, Chelsea hosted Arsenal at the Stamford Bridge in a game managed by referee Andre Marriner. This was Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game in charge of the Gunners and it came against fierce rivals Chelsea, lead by Wenger’s nemesis, Jose Mourinho. Much to the North London side’s misery, Chelsea were already 2-0 up in 7 minutes and was awarded a penalty in the 16th minute. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain positioned two yards in front of the net, handled a goal-bound ball. A red card was inevitable, however much to the shock of everyone at the Bridge, it was showed to Kieran Gibbs instead of Oxlade Chamberlain. Despite several appeals of innocence, the referee stood firm on his decision and sent off the wrong player in a case of mistaken identity. Andre Marriner later realised his error and apologised for the same at halftime. Post the game, Arsenal’s appeal lead to an overturning of the decision and finally, Oxlade Chamberlain faced the ban instead of Kieran Gibbs
Robin Van Persie red card vs Barcelona
In one of the most bizarre sending offs, Arsenal striker Robin Van Persie saw red in a Champions League tie at the Nou Camp in 2011. After a 1-1 draw at the Emirates in the first leg, the tie was very much on with both teams having a good chance to progress. It was in the 56th minute when the score was 1-1 at the night and Robin Van Persie was flagged offside from a long ball. Oblivious of the decision, the dutchman went on to strike the ball towards goal and was shockingly shown a second yellow card for the same. Van Persie’s rightful protest of not being able to hear the whistle due to 95,000 fans in the stadium was ignored by referee Massimo Busacca. What made the decision even worse, was the fact that there was a mere 1-second gap between the whistle and Van Persie kicking the ball.
Didier Drogba offside goal at Old Trafford
Manchester United hosted Chelsea in a vital Premier League clash on 3 April 2020. Before the game, United was a point ahead of Chelsea at the top of the table with just 6 games left to play. Chelsea took the lead in the first half thanks to Joe Cole and United were on the cusp of an equaliser in the second half. The Ivorian Didier Drogba came on for Nicolas Anelka in the second half and was presented with a great opportunity to seal the win with a second goal thanks to a through ball from Malouda. Much like his prolific self, Drogba smashed the ball home only for the replay to show him being offside. The goal stood and Chelsea went on to win 2-1 and subsequently claim the Premier League title.
Thierry Henry handball in WC Qualifier
France was scheduled to collide with the Republic of Ireland in 2009 in a playoff tie for a place in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. France won the first leg 1-0 and were trailing by the same scoreline after 90 minutes in the second leg. As a result, the game went to Extra Time to determine a winner. In the 14th minute, William Gallas headed the ball in via a pass from Thiery Henry. Replays show that Henry clearly and deliberately handled the ball in an attempt to prevent it from going out of play, before making the crucial pass to Gallas. The protests from irate Irish players were not entertained and France went on to book their place in the World Cup. Thierry Henry’s admission of guilt post the game made this one of the most controversial and unfair decisions ever
Nani Red Card vs Real Madrid
In the UEFA Champions League, 2013 Round of 16 draws, British giants Manchester United were drawn against Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid. The magnitude of the tie, supplemented with Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford, was met with unprecedented hype at the time. The first leg ended as a 1-1 draw thanks to goals from Danny Welbeck and Cristiano Ronaldo at the Santiago Bernabeu, with all to play for in the return fixture. Sir Alex Ferguson made the big call of dropping key player Wayne Rooney on the bench in the 2nd leg. The decision though met with a lot of raised eyebrows, proved incredibly clever as United took the lead in the 48th minute due to an own goal from Sergio Ramos. Things were going as planned for the Red Devils till the 56th minute when Nani’s foot unintentionally met incoming Alvaro Arbeloa’s midriff. The entire stadium was expecting referee Cuneyt Cakir to show a yellow card to Nani and all were astounded to witness the colour as Red. Sir Alex Ferguson, infuriated with the decision, frantically protested while opposition manager Jose Mourinho looked amazed too. The Portuguese, however, was quick to recognise an opportunity and brought on a striker for a defender. Ten minutes later, Luka Modric struck the ball in the net and the difference between the teams was not in the scoreline, but in the number of people on the pitch. Manchester United was heading to extra time with 10 men, but Real Madrid then had the wind in their sails and won the tie thanks to a decisive goal from Ronaldo in the 69th minute. The referee’s pivotal decision was met with controversy all around the globe and Sir Alex refused to attend the post-match press conference out of disgust. Very interestingly, Jose Mourinho admitted in his post-match interview stating, “We didn’t deserve to win and the best team lost”
Chelsea vs Barcelona 2009 UCL Semi-Final
After a goalless first leg at the Nou Camp, Chelsea and Barcelona locked horns in London for a place in the 2009 Champions League final in Rome. Michael Essien gave the blues an early lead thanks to a super strike. Chelsea maintained control of the game and was denied innumerable valid penalty appeals. Firstly, Dani Alves prevented Florent Malouda at the edge of the box with clear use of hands. Despite the foul being committed on the line, the referee signalled a free kick instead of a penalty. Minutes later, Didier Drogba was denied a penalty despite an evident shirt pull from Eric Abidal inside the box. In the second half, Drogba made great use of his strength to get past Yaya You’re only for the fellow Ivorian to catch him in a retreating tackle inside the box. The referee still didn’t blow the whistle. Nicolas Anelka was also through on goal minutes later and didn’t receive a penalty despite a clear shove from Yaya Youre again. The culmination of all these wrong decisions was also the epitome of it. The ball hit Gerard Pique’s raised arm, in a completely unnatural position, right on his palm. Despite the incident taking place under the referee’s nose, he still did not blow. Barcelona then went on to score an injury-time goal to win the tie 1-1 on away goals, leaving Chelsea with a burning sense of injustice.
Diego Maradona’s hand of god
One of the most infamous incidents in the history of Football also had to go down as one of the most unfair decisions ever. On 22nd June 1986, Diego Maradona struck the ball in the net thanks to his hand. A clear violation of the most basic rule of the game went unnoticed and the goal stood. It was in the 51st minute of an Argentina-England match in the World Cup Quarter Final in Mexico when Maradona used his hand to out-jump opposition goalkeeper Peter Shilton who was 8 inches taller than him. Maradona looked at the officials during his celebration for confirmation and whereas ideally, he should have been receiving a yellow card, he bagged a vital goal. The Tunisian referee Ali Bennaceur, even after consultation with the linesman allowed the goal to stand and Argentina went on to win 2-1 over England.
Frank Lampard goal vs Germany in 2010
England, once again suffering from a bad referee call, were the victims in their clash against Germany in the 2010 FIFA World Cup Round of 16. Germany pulled away with a two-goal lead in the 32nd minute thanks to goals from Miroslav Klose and Lucas Podolski. However, England did fight back and got one goal back in the 37th minute. With momentum on their side, they sought an equaliser and seconds later Frank Lampard’s shot bounced back from the bar behind the goal line. To the shock of everyone in the stadium, neither the referee nor the linesman signalled the goal. Replays show that the ball was several yards behind the line. England manager Fabio Capello was already celebrating and pretty much everyone in the stadium knew it was a goal, except for the ones making the call. The incident killed England’s spirits and hopes of a comeback as Germany went on to score two more goals. Fabio Capello criticised FIFA for playing such an important game without technology and fit officials. Had the goal been given, the outcome of the match could have been very different.
Over the years, such decisions have created a lot of negative PR for governing bodies which seems to be part of the reason why additions like goal-line technology and VAR have been made to the game.