Football referee errors history
An exhaustive look at the history of football ref errors and their consequences regarding titles, team status, prize money wold be very interesting; unfortunately, it also would be extremely laborious to do. Given that interest in these matters doesn't seem to be as high as I'd think it should, there's probably little point in doing it. Besides, the quality of available video evidence prior to about 1986 is not good enough to say much with reasonable certainty.
So I'll just outline here a few general facts about the subject. I'll focus on the World Cup; there are way too many European Club Cups to be casually summed up, besides, before about 1990, this cup, even though still very important, wasn't quite as important as it is today.
Personally, I consider any title won before 1980 dubious at least, if not outright unlawful. Back then refs were notoriously favoring home sides, especially strong ones. The game was even rougher than today, yellow and red cards were given much harder. Doping was rampant, I heard views of respected football professionals that basically everybody did it, to the best of their abilities. On top of that, video evidence, as I said, was much less relevant. Therefore I don't think titles from that period can be reasonably trusted to be legitimate.
I'll make an exception though for Brazil 70. They won 3 times out of 4, the third coming that year, and there's little doubt they were indeed the best team in the world by some distance at that moment.
Notable and notorious rigged tournaments of the past include, and the list is not exhaustive, just those I know of:
Italy 34, when fascist leader Mussolini probably gave each and every ref detailed instructions on what to see and, more importantly, what not to see, especially when officiating games of the home team. (To be very clear, this is not historic fact, it's just my half-joking speculation. But the way those refs acted at Italy's games, the ones against Spain in particular, leaves little room for doubt that they were indeed influenced).
Switzerland 54. It's a known fact that Germany probably were given meth shots before the final against Hungary. There's even a german study, quite recent, that officially confirms this. Besides, Puskas was severely injured in the prior match against Germany, the one Hungary won 8 - 3, by an intentional tackle. Which meant he wasn't fully fit in the final and of course the team had it much harder on the way to the final. Plus there were some wrong calls in the final favoring the germans; of course the video evidence isn't conclusive but from what evidence there is, it appears the germans were favored.
A good discussion about all this is at
Of course Hungary might have been doped themselves, in those days nothing's for sure; but the evidence against the germans is much stronger.
The 2 tournaments of the 80s are also dubious to say the least.
Italy wont in 82 basically because of Gentile's dirty play that was tolerated by the refs. He didn't break any legs but by persistent and occasionally very rough fouls destroyed the offensive game of 2 superior teams, Brazil and Argentina, in the infamous group-of-death of 3 teams in the QFs. (That was a peculiar and very ill-advised competition format that was tried only then and abandoned with boos.) He should have been sent off a few times in each of those 2 games, and it's hard to see Italy winning without him. So their title that year was quite clearly illegitimate.
Argentina's win in 86, even featuring the infamous hand-of-God goal vs. England in the quarters, was probably lawful with respect to the play. They weren't a rough team in that tournament, they didn't need to because they were fantastically good, with Maradona, Valdano and all the others. Even in that QF game, the english were in fact the more unlawful side (see below). Unfortunately, their win relied heavily on the skills and brilliance of Maradona, who 8 years later was found doped. This casts serious doubt on every other tournament he participated in, to me at least. So I can't consider this a legitimate win, I think it's doubtful.
Starting with the 90s, there are some tournaments that are relatively clean. The titles of 90 and 98, won by Germany and France respectively, may be the cleanest of all. I haven't analyzed all the games of the winners so I can't be sure; but I haven't heard of particularly problematic matches in these tournaments. Of course there still could be problems if I looked at them thoroughly myself; but I'm not about to do it.
I have heard opinions that the german win in the final in 90 was wrong, so I did look at this game in detail, see below. It's quite clear they won it legitimately.
In 94 there was the infamous incident with Tassotti elbowing Enrique in the face, in the Spain - Italy quarter. The ref of course missed it but FIFA practically admitted his mistake by giving Tassotti an 8-game post-match ban. Had the penalty and the red card been called, as it should have been, Spain would have had the first chance to win the game in extra-time; even if this was by no means assured, we can't know what would have happened, and to the best of our knowledge Spain would most likely have won it. So I looked closely at this game too and indeed, on FairFootball Spain would have won it. Then Italy lost the final on a penalty shootout against Brazil. Regardless whether Italy's semi-final win against Bulgaria was correct or not, with good reffing most likely Brazil's final opponent would have been different, probably Spain. While there's of course no saying what would have happened in that final, this makes Brazil's 94 title also doubtful.
2002 was a major scandal, both Italy and Spain were cheated to make way for hosts Korea to get to the semis. While it was outrageous, if Brazil's games were won fairly this still means they would be the FairFootball winners. But their title is of course doubtful. I haven't heard of any problems in Brazil's matches back then, but I also haven't looked at them in detail to be able to say for sure.
Then there are the 2 tournaments I covered here, Italy 06 which is clearly illegitimate and Spain 10 which is doubtful.
So, in summary:
- prior to 1986 there's one legitimate title, Brazil 70
- Germany 90 and France 98 are maybe more or less clean
- Argentina 86, Brazil 94 and 02 and Spain 10 are doubtful
- all the other ones are quite clearly illegitimate
That's my opinion. With the caveat that I haven't looked in detail at Germany 90 and France 98 so I'm not sure about them. All the others I'm reasonably sure they're as I said.
Of course, even those tournaments that are more or less OK regarding the play, or at least just doubtful, might have been influenced by doping underneath that went uncaught. But until there is some evidence about it, we have no way than to trust it didn't happen, or if it dit, as it's most likely, that it didn't heavily influence their outcome. Though I personally wouldn't bet my house on it.
Below is a list of dubious games which, as I said, I have watched thoroughly for this little football history review:
Brazil - Italy 82
For this tournament, the evidence is not very good, so everything is to a
large extent a matter of opinion.
But even with this evidence I think it's rather clear that Brazil would have won with good reffing. As I said, they should have had that penalty in the first half and Gentile should have been sent off for a second yellow, which in all likelihood would have meant Italy would have been no match for Brazil for the rest of the game.
The central ref couldn't have called a penalty + yellow card because his assistant had signalled an offside for Zico. That call was very likely wrong. The replay is not from the best angle but luckily the edge of the penalty box is very near and it's rather clear that in fact there was no offside. I'm certain enough to overrule the ref here. Penalty and second yellow would have been the right decision.
Gentile should have received his second yellow on at least 2 other occasions. He didn't break any legs (at least in this match) but that doesn't mean his dirty play wasn't essential for Italy to win this one and eventually the title.
By the FairFootball rules I have to say Italy would have still won it. That's because of the limitations, I know that without Gentile they very likely would have lost, but this is an outside judgement I can't use on FairFootball, at least the flavor I've been doing.
The score would have been 4 - 3, besides Brazil's pen there was one for Italy too, in the second half, for a foul on Rossi (52. minute). Actually, this is the clearest incident in the game, this time they do provide a very good replay which leaves little room for doubt.
Other than that, both had a goal each ruled out for offside, both very dubious calls. And the 3rd goal of Italy was from a corner that is also dubious, it doesn't look like the ball went completely out. But they don't give a replay from the relevant angle so one has to go with the refs on all these incidents.
Besides Gentile, the italians should have seen like 5 - 6 more yellow cards, and the brazilians 2 - 3 too. The ref was very lenient, way too lenient for a game with Gentile's Italy in it.
Italy - Argentina
Horribly rough game. The argentinians pretty rough themselves, the
italians significantly worse. The ref should have shown something like
20 yellow cards, most of them to Italy. He only gave 6 (one of which was
red), four of them to the argies. Most were for protests, I think only 2
of them were for fouls. Which is unbelievable. One of these 2 was to
Gentile (for a foul, of course, on Maradona), which should have been a
direct red, min. 42. For this incident the video is pretty good.
Gentile should of course have seen another 2 or 3 yellow cards.
By contrast, the direct red of Argentina in min. 84 seemed harsh, especially given the generally lax ref manner. A yellow card would have been more like it IMO.
In short, the ref was a joke. Of course the 2 teams realized it early on and didn't hold back. Italy having of course the most of it, and especially, you guessed it, Gentile. With Maradona his prime target.
Honestly, I don't see how anybody other than the worst blindfolded italian homers can believe this was a legitimate title for Italy.
Brazil - Argentina
Reasonably clean game, until towards the end when it became dirty. By
then it was settled, Brazil had a 3 - 0 lead.
Until around min. 80 everything went more or less OK. Some wicked fouling, the ref should have shown maybe 3 - 4 more cards to each side (the standards were probably laxer back then), nothing out of the ordinary. Of course from Argentina, the one who took most hits was Maradona. Still nothing compared to what Gentile did to him.
At the end the argentines lost control. Zico had to be carried out the field then subbed. Then came min. 86 when Maradona was sent off. Correctly, as the replays showed conclusively, but the brazilian player who started it also quite clearly deserved to join him, he got away with just yellow. Whatever, at that time it didn't matter much. I guess the ref took into account that in the last 5 minutes or so the argies had been clearly rougher than their adversaries.
The FairFootball score would have been 4 - 3, Argentina had 2 penalties denied, Brazil one too. Plus there was a perfectly legit brazilian goal the ref should have allowed by playing advantage, but he called a foul for Brazil that had happened a few seconds before. Clumsy officiating but legally correct.
Argentina - England 86
I have to say I changed my mind about this game.
The goal itself was obviously as dirty as can be, but the english should have seen red in min. 41, for an elbow in the face of, who else, Maradona. Until that time it had been basically an Argentina show, with England defending very well but practically non-existent in midfield and attack, and Maradona and the others running rings around them. The goals had to come sooner or later. I really can't see them posing too many problems to the argies if they had been one man down.
England got away with quite a few things in this game. Besides said red card, there were another 4 or 5 yellows the ref should have shown them but didn't. One of which could also have been a red, for a hand in the face of again Maradona, min. 66. It wasn't very rough so maybe back then this wasn't necessarily a straight red card, though it could have been. Today it definitely would have been, in theory at least.
All in all they were clearly the more unlawful side, HOG goal notwithstanding. Then again it's natural, given that Argentina were so much better in midfield and did basically all attacking most part of the game.
I still have my doubts regarding Maradona's doping, so I'm not quite prepared to consider this a legitimate title for Argentina, but based on the play itself it probably is. Because of his later doping incidents I still think it's doubtful.
It's the first time I watch this game entirely, after the one when I saw it live. I guess it's the lifetime game of Maradona. Besides his century goal he did another few brilliant runs, marvelous passes, generally dictated play in midfield and attack. Against a very strong team, the english were in one of their best periods, 2 years after Liverpool had won their fourth European Cup in 8 years, with 3 of the other 4 going also to english teams. Too bad he ruined everything with the Hand of God goal.
BTW, I seem to remember that he tried it again once afterwards, scored another goal with his hand, but this time the ref knew what to expect and showed him the yellow card. Which he sportingly acknowledged. I can't remember though on what occasion that was.
Argentina - Brazil 90
After seeing this game again, I keep my opinion that it was probably the
luckiest WCup win of a top team ever, or at least in the last, I don't
know, 40 - 50 years. Brazil vastly superior, had most of the attack and
chances to score for about 80 minutes, including 3 woodwork hits. Also
some 5 - 6 other good opportunities. They wasted them all. Then came the
moment of brilliance of Maradona and the game was largely over.
True, Argentina had a goal disallowed for a very bad offside call, their player was probably more than a meter inside at the moment of the pass. But before that Brazil should also have had a penalty, so it evens out. The FairFootball score would have been 2 - 1.
What's interesting is that Brazil were by far the rougher side, especially since they attacked much more until the goal. They should have seen 5 - 6 yellow cards compared to 1 - 2 for the argies. That's additionally to those they did receive, which also were more than those of Argentina. Of course, the bulk of the hits went to Maradona. He must be the most fouled player in the history of the World Cup. I have to say, after I watched these games I kind of can understand him. Of course that's no excuse for his cheating, including his doping. But one has to consider what he's been put through.
At the goal, there were no less than 4 players who surrounded Maradona, leaving Caniggia free like a bird in the sky. That's how much they feared him. So, naturally, he saw to it that the ball got to Caniggia as quickly as possible. The rest was a formality, which Caniggia did brilliantly, rounding the keeper.
After the goal Brazil kind of lost their heads. They rushed things, did a lot of mistakes, got even rougher and had a player rightfully sent off. True, there wasn't much time left, but a valuable experienced team would have played it differently I think, with somewhat more chances of turning things around. But the main cause of their loss was their very poor finishing, and consistent bad luck, 3 woodwork hits are bad luck however one looks at it.
Germany - Argentina 90
Not much to say. Clean win IMO. Germany far and away the better team,
Argentina lucky to concede just this one goal.
The penalty seemed legit to me. It's not very clear but from what I can see I have no reason to doubt it.
Moreover, Germany should have had 2 other penalties, in min. 57 and 58, for fouls on Klinsmann and Litbarski. Argentina one too, in min. 77 when they were one man down.
Argentina by far the rougher side, the mexican ref held back a lot of deserved yellow cards, most to them. In the end he had no choice and had to show Monzon a direct red. And then Dezotti a second yellow.
Spain - Italy 94
The game with the elbow in the face of Luis Enrique in the dying minutes. It was
an important QF match between 2 of the strongest teams of the tournament;
afterwards Italy went on to lose the final by a penalty shootout.
First thing Italy did in the game - foul from behind on Enrique, in minute 1. Of course the ref didn't show them the yellow card, though he gave the foul. A sign of things to come.
After that, the game was rather clean, 2 very strong teams producing beautiful football. Until the elbowing incident in the 5th minute of extra-time.
There's little doubt about it, as I understand Tassotti was given an 8-game ban by FIFA post-match based on video evidence. So I see no need for me to add anything.
What I wanted to see is whether there were other game-changing ref errors. There were, but evenly split, both teams should have had another 2 penalties each. Over-all, most likely Spain would have won with correct officiating, Tassotti should obviously have seen red for the elbow and Spain would thus have had the first chance in extra-time.
If you think about it, Spain were cheated in 94, 02 and 06, not to
mention Euro 96. 3 Cups out of 4. This is just in recent times, then
there was also the infamous fascist cheating of 1934. These are just the
very clear ones. They're probably the most robbed team in World Cup
Italy, as usual, the villains. But then that's Italy, and this time they didn't even win it.
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