The Most Unfair Referee Decisions During World Cup Games


Referees haven’t got it easy. Do a good job and your role in the match goes virtually unnoticed, but if you screw up, boy, are you in trouble! Enraged fans have even been known to pay a referee a visit at home after he made a decision they deemed unfair on their team. While this is a little out of the ordinary, a referee can expect to receive more than their fair share of vitriol from fans and players alike.

While this is often very unfair on the referee there are also plenty of cases where criticism is completely justified. Here are some of our favourite examples from World Cup games where referees have made a simply awful decision:

World Cup 2010 – Brazil v Ivory Coast

While playing against the Ivory Coast during the 2010 World Cup, Brazilian midfielder Ricardo Kaka was given the red card for supposedly viciously hitting Abdul Kader Keita in the face. However, replay revealed that Kaka barely touched Keita. Kaka’s hand gently brushes across the chest of the Ivory Coast player, at which in falls to the ground clutching his face in apparent agony.


World Cup 1998 – England v Argentina

OK, next up, who remembers when Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen sent of David Beckham during France ’98? Beckham supposedly kicked Diego Simeone of Argentina, though England fans argued it was more of a tap. Simeone collapsed to ground claiming to have been seriously hurt, much to the chagrin of England supporters.

Nielsen instantly gave Beckham the red card and to this day stands by his decision. Reflecting on the event and preceding reaction from fans, Nielsen commented that the most impressive thing about the whole situation was that hate mail sent from England addressed to “World Cup Referee, Denmark” arrived at his home.

World Cup 1998 – France v Croatia

Slaven Bilic is considered one of footballs ‘nice guys’, yet during Croatia’s 1998 World Cup game against France in the semi-finals he decided to take a dive that led to Laurent Blanc receiving a red card. The sending off forced Blanc to miss the World Cup final, meaning he was unable to take part in his team’s victory.

The incident took place during a corner. As the ball was lifted into the box Blanc and Bilic collided. Bilic went down clutching his head. The referee was convinced and pulled the red card on Blanc, the first red card the French player had ever received. Despite Bilic’s epic show of pain, the replay revealed that Blanc barely touched him, certainly not more than small knock.


Laurent Blanc receiving the first red card of his career.

World Cup 2002 – Brazil v Turkey

And of course, we could not write this list without including Rivaldo’s infamous ball-in-face fake. The Brazilian player received a slightly less than gentle pass from Turkish player Hakan Ünsal. The ball hit Rivaldo in the leg and for some inexplicable reason he decided to clutch his face and collapse on the ground. South Korean referee, Kim Young-Joo, instantly showed Ünsal the red card, the player having already received a yellow earlier in the game.

Can you think of another unfair decision that we’ve missed? Let us know and we’ll add it to the list.

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