This week it’s the Round of 16 in the 2014 World Cup. In order to do it justice, we’ll give both our facts to the infamous stage where champions emerge and supposed favourites are crushed by the outsiders.
Since the World Cup began in 1930, the competition has seen controversial matches of all shapes and sizes. Back in 1966, Pele was on the losing side of a bloodbath, when a talented Portuguese side, having seen the success the Hungarians (who were a jaded team living in the shadow of a masterful 1950s side) had in dealing with the Brazil No.10, proceeded to violently foul the player for an entire ninety minutes and not even have a player dismissed. Forty years later, things were different when a passionate Zinedine Zidane bowed out of international football on the grandest stage of them all; his end coming in the form of an enigmatic headbutt to the body of Italian defender Marco Materazzi. Fairly shocking. But then what was the most violent match of them all, at least by statistical standards? Enter the Battle of Nuremberg, a round of 16 clash in the 2006 finals, played out surprisingly by the Netherlands and Portugal. Russian referee Valentin Ivanov had his hands full, having to issue a record four red cards and 16 yellow cards, setting a new record for cards shown at any FIFA-administered international tournament.
The match ended 1–0 to Portugal, with Maniche scoring in the 23rd minute. Before the goal, Van Bommell had been booked and in the eighth minute, Dutch defender Boulahrouz was cautioned for a foul which injured Ronaldo and would eventually force the substitution of Portugal’s star winger before half time. Ronaldo left in tears, and proceeded to describe Boulahrouz’s tackle as “clearly an intentional foul to get me injured.”In the meantime, Maniche had been booked for a foul on Van Bommel after 19 minutes.Costinha was sent off just before half time, the culmination of a foul and a handball. After Petit had been cautioned in the 50th minute, Van Bronckhurst and Luis Figo both received yellow cards, with Figo’s coming as a result of a headbutt. Portugal manage Luis Felipe Scolari controversially approved of the foul after Figo had been incited, “Jesus Christ may be able to turn the other cheek but Luís Figo isn’t Jesus Christ. Scolari also escaped punishment.
Boulahrouz was sent off in the 63rd minute with a second caution after fouling Figo, which sparked a melee on the touch line. Portugal’s playmaker Deco roughly fouled Dutch defender Heitinga and was booked; the Netherlands had held onto the ball after Portugal had cleared it into touch to allow a player to receive medical treatment, thus breaking one of football’s unwritten rules. Deco received his second caution and was dismissed in the 78th minute for delaying the restart after a free-kick was awarded. Philip Cocu escaped a caution for wrestling Deco to the ground in his attempt to retrieve the ball. Meanwhile, Van Bronckhurst received his marching orders. Overall, Sepp Blatter quoted on the matter saying “the referee should have gave himself a yellow card”, but later apologised.
For our second fact, we go back to 1990. It’s the second round, Italy is the scene and two nations hold their breath as it becomes clear only one team is going to emerge. And no, this fact is not about the Ireland-Romania match. While Ireland’s heroics in the second round of Italia 90 are applauded to this day, one of the surprisingly lesser known matches came in the form of a Brazil-Argentina clash. At half time, the game was stuck at 0-0, and although Brazil seemed to be controlling the play, no goal was in sight.Aan Argentinian went down injured around this time. During this interruption Branco – later to play in England with Middlesbrough – drank from a bottle supplied by Argentina’s physio Miguel di Lorenzo.Shortly afterwards, against the run of play, Claudio Caniggia scored the only goal of the game from a Diego Maradona pass, putting Argentina into the quarter-finals.
Suspicion of foul play was first raised two days later by Branco, who said he had felt dizzy and ill after drinking the water. Maradona later admitted on public TV that after he offered the water to the Brazilians, Branco was ‘falling over’ after taking free kicks. The coach Bilardo has also said “I’m not denying it happened”. So although the incident has never been proved, the suspicion remains.