Brendan Rodgers isn’t happy. At the press conference after Arsenal’s defeat of Liverpool in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, Rodgers was left “fuming” after a “blatant” foul on Luis Suárez by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain went unpunished. Certainly, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s challenge looked to be a foul as he barged Suárez off the ball. However, is it really up there with the worst penalty decisons of all time? We take a look at when referees get it very, very wrong – awarding penalties for ghost challenges; or conversely, ignoring the most blatant of misdemeanours.
Holland v Portugal, 2006
At the 2006 World Cup, Holland’s second-round match against Portugal was a positive blizzard of cards. Russian referee Valentin Ivanov set the record for the highest number of red cards ever given in a World Cup match (four) and equalled the record for total cards (a whopping 16). After the match, Fifa president Sepp Blatter commented: “There could have been a yellow card for the referee.”
Despite this, the challenge in which Nuno Valente appeared to commit an Eric Cantona-style spinning-bird kick into the chest of Arjen Robben went unpunished. Ivanov had already blown for an (incorrect) offside decision against Dirk Kuyt. But the fact that Valente leaving his studs in Robben’s sternum resulted in no action – given the general trigger-happy distribution of cards – is flabbergasting. (Then again, Luis Figo was only shown a yellow card for headbutting Mark van Bommel later on).
Dundalk v Derry City, 1988
The 1988 Football Association of Ireland Cup was won by Dundalk 1–0, against Derry City. The sad thing is the game was won by a penalty, given for a challenge softer than a Mr Whippy ice-cream on a hot summer’s day. When Dundalk’s Larry Wyse picked up the ball on the edge of the box, the Candystripes’ Martin Bayly seemed to briefly touch arms with Wyse, and yet the referee blew up loud and sharp. Derry’s John Cleary scored from the spot to ultimately secure the Cup. Awful decision.
Brisbane Roar v Perth Glory, 2012
In what is probably the most ludicrous pick of the bunch, Brisbane Roar were awarded a penalty for one of their players mis-kicking the ball, swiping at air, and then tripping over his own feet. The only thing that would have completed Besart Berish’s comedy routine in the box would have been if he’d blown a horn and squirted water from a flower on his lapel. He converted his penalty kick low into the right hand corner.
To make matters worse, this all happened in the A-League Grand Final (2011-2012 season). The decision came late in the game, and left Perth Glory too little time to find an equaliser. It definitely wasn’t referee Jarred Gillett’s finest moment, put it that way.
France v Germany, 1982
One of the most disgraceful fouls to have gone unreprimanded, this ‘tackle’ from Germany’s ’82 goalkeeper Harald ‘Toni’ Schumacher in the World Cup semi-final was horrifically dangerous and intentional, and resulted in France’s Patrick Battiston being stretchered off the pitch unconscious with his teeth knocked out, broken vertebrae, and having to be administered oxygen. He later slipped into a coma before recovering. Schumacher, who had jumped into the player and smashed his hip into Battinson’s face, stood unmoved while the player lay flattened on the turf.
Battiston’s team mate Michel Platini later said that he thought that Battiston was dead, because “he had no pulse and looked pale”. Schumacher’s take on the whole thing was somewhat different. Upon hearing that Battinson had his teeth spattered all over the grass, he said: “If that’s all that’s wrong with him, I’ll pay him the crowns.” Nice guy.
Dundee United v Celtic, 2008
Referee Charlie Richmond was accused of being a Celtic fan after this decision during a 2008 Scottish Premier League 1-1 draw, such was its misguidedness. In what was a stonewall penalty, Gary Caldwell came sliding into the path of Roy O’Donovan in the middle of a Cruyff turn, scything him down and missing the ball by the width of the Grand Canyon.
Manchester City v Manchester United, 1996
Commentator Clive Tyldesley can’t contain his surprise at this decision by referee Alan Wilkie in the 1996 FA Cup quarter-final. You could watch this clip over and over again searching for a foul, but it would be a bit like searching for a non-existent needle in a haystack. Apparently, Michael Frontzeck is holding Eric Cantona, but there doesn’t seem to be any empirical evidence for this. All we can see is Ryan Giggs’ corner flying over the box, and Roy Keane’s awful mane. Cantona hammered the penalty home to take the lead just before half-time.
City’s manager Alan Ball said: “It changed the game. We had the tie taken away from us by a bizarre decision. Nobody in the crowd could believe it. There was confusion on every player’s face.” Even Lee Sharpe admitted: “if it had happened to us, we’d have felt a little hard done by”.
Esporte Clube Juventude v Vasco da Gama, 1997
This is pretty hilarious. In this game in Brasileirão Serie A, Vasco’s Ramon falls down, skidding along the turf, and is promptly awarded a completely misjudged penalty. It doesn’t look as though Carlos Alberto actually dives, but he certainly isn’t fouled. He just sort of, trips over himself with his velocity. Carlos Alberto converts the penalty to give Vasco a thoroughly undeserved lead. The game eventually ended in a 1–1 draw. Vasco went on to win the Campeonato Brasileiro.
Chelsea v West Bromich Albion, 2013
The Baggies were all set for a historic win over Chelsea before Ramires dived his way to a draw at Stamford Bridge, deep into injury-time. This was a dive that was so obvious on television replay that it prompted an apology from referees’ chief, Mike Riley (though it was Andre Marriner who had awarded the spot-kick). Ostensibly, Ramires collided with Steven Reid, but it is clear that no contact between the players is made.
Eden Hazard converted the subsequent penalty to level the score at 2–2. After Riley’s apology, West Brom boss Steve Clarke said: “It doesn’t get us any more points but it’s nice of Mike to phone. If he’s apologising, he obviously feels it was the wrong decision.”
Manchester United v Real Sociedad, 2013
No list of bad penalty decisions would be complete without including the alleged serial-diver Ashley Young. The Manchester United player has developed a reputation for his in-the-box theatrics, conning referees into giving penalties for non-existent fouls. This is one of the worst examples, in a Champions League group game against Real Sociedad, to win a penalty (which Robin van Persie struck against the post). Roy Keane criticised Young for manipulating referee Nicola Rizzoli, saying: “He has obviously gone down too much over the last few months. He’s conned the referee there.”
United boss David Moyes, however, defended Young insisting he was “tugged in the box”. Sure David, sure.
Nigeria v Argentina, 2011
Here’s a penalty given for a handball, which is actually quite clearly controlled on the knee. Or maybe the crotch. But definitely not the hand. The referee, Ibrahim Chaibou, who is standing less than ten metres away, blows for the foul and the Nigerians can’t believe it. However, the decision came in the 98th minute when the Nigerians led 4–0, so all in all, it doesn’t really make too much difference. Or maybe it did, given that there was a Fifa investigation into suspicious betting patterns during the friendly. This penalty decision and the eight minutes of added time fuelled the concerns, although there have been no formal charges or sanctions levelled against Chaibou, who denies any connection to match-fixing.
Tell us your thoughts on the worst penalty decisions you’ve ever witnessed in the comments below.