Referees are often the centre of debate, their decisions scrutinised by the whole football world, with opinions varying depending on your allegiances. They are often viewed harshly and, with the pace of the modern game, their job is only getting harder, with many suggesting the introduction of technology the only way to improve the quality of decisions.

Forgetting this though, we are examining occasions when referees have got decisions badly wrong, making themselves and not the game centre stage.

‘Hand of God’

For most English football fans, this is by far the worst decision ever made. The World Cup had so far been successful for England and their passage through to the quarter-final almost had fans dreaming.

Argentina were viewed as imposing opponents, so when the game had got to half-time and the scores were level there was a great deal of excitement growing in England.

However, this was quelled just six minutes after the break when a ball from Steve Hodge went badly wrong and looped up between Peter Shilton and Diego Maradona. Despite the huge gap in height between the two (coming in at eight inches) Maradona reached the ball first, rising to head it but using his left hand to push the ball past Shilton.

Before the ball had even nestled in the goal, England were protesting but Ali Bin Nasser was having none of it, giving the goal which ultimately won Argentina the game. They went on to add a second and despite a late Gary Lineker goal, it wasn’t enough and England lost.

Thus, had the referee not have allowed the goal and given Maradona the red card that his blatant handball had deserved then England may well have won the tie and gone on to the semi-finals, showing the magnitude of the Tunisian referee’s decision.

Rivaldo’s ‘face clutch’

Group C at the 2002 World Cup was fairly uneventful and straightforward, as favourites Brazil took the group at a canter, winning all three of their games and ending five points clear of Turkey in second.

It did produce a huge talking point though in the tie between Turkey and Brazil, as Rivaldo exhibited theatrics that wouldn’t have been out of place on Eastenders.

Brazil won a corner in the second half of the match, Turkey defender Hakan Unsal played the ball to the corner flag to allow Rivaldo to take the kick. However, the ball landed in the player’s midriff, as he had failed to control it.

Far more amazing, was how Rivaldo suddenly collapsed to the ground, writhing in agony, with both hands clutching his face, clearly claiming that Unsal had tried to take his head off with the ball.

Startlingly, the referee then approached Unsal and brandished a red card, as he had been taken in by the acting of Rivaldo, believing the Turkey international to have committed a second bookable offence.

This was met by uproar from the crowd as the replays around the stadium showed that the behaviour was far from sporting and was a clear exhibit of cheating. It was clear that the referee, Kim Young-Joo, hadn’t seen the incident but just the antics of the Brazilian, causing him to make such a shocking error.

Rivaldo eventually met his match, as FIFA fined him for his behaviour, but it still meant Turkey were limited to nine men, following a rightful sending off earlier in the game, which certainly turned the tie.

‘Ghost goal’

Back in 2009, Reading met Watford in the Championship, a huge game ruined by one of the strangest decisions in football history, as the ball went nowhere near being a goal, yet Stuart Atwell was convinced it had crossed the line.

Stephen Hunt whipped in a corner that was met by his brother Noel Hunt at the front post. He made contact and the ball did bounce over the line, but it was yards wide of the net and a goal-kick should have been given.

Strangely, some seconds later when Watford keeper Scott Loach had hold of the ball, Atwell had blown and was pointing towards the centre circle, signalling for the play to restart following the ‘goal’. This was met with a degree of confusion as both sets of players tried to work out what had happened, eventually slowly moving back into position, begrudgingly accepting the decision.

It got worse for Watford as the ‘ghost goal’ contributed to a 2-2 draw, from a game that they had led 2-1 and would have won had the right decision have been made by the match officials.

Graham Poll's three yellow cards

It was a numerical error that made Graham Poll a laughing stock of English football during the 2006 World Cup, after issuing three yellow cards and an eventual red to Croatia player Josip Simunic.

His first offence was noted by Poll, who warranted it bad enough for a yellow card. However, the English official cautioned him again late in the match, for a heavy tackle as tempers started to fray. This caused huge confusion as the Australians tried to inform Poll that this was a second booking and so should have been red.

The game continued however and Simunic lasted the full game, only being shown a red card for dissent after the final whistle, when the Aussies were unhappy about Tim Cahill’s goal being disallowed as the game had ended just seconds before.

This earnt Poll a reputation as a poor official and changed attitudes towards him when he returned to Premier League action in the 2006/07 season. He was also sent home from the World Cup after the group stage, not getting the opportunity to referee the later stages.

Mendes from the halfway line

Tottenham went to Old Trafford in January 2005 as underdogs, and Manchester United were heavily in control of possession throughout the game.

There was euphoria for Spurs fans then when Mendes curled an effort from the half-way line, over the head of Roy Carroll and in to the goal, putting Spurs 1-0 up.

However, this didn’t happen, as Carroll clawed the ball back from yards behind the line and proceeded to play on, ignoring the fact that Mendes’ effort was a legitimate goal.

Mark Clattenburg too agreed with Carroll and as the linesman didn’t signal a goal, the game continued, much to the anger of the Spurs fans, who were denied their first win since 1989 at the home of the Red Devils.

It could also have been worse for Spurs as a Gabriel Heinze free-kick was kept out by a fabulous Paul Robinson save late on, denying Manchester United three points that they most certainly weren’t entitled to.

The goal is often considered to have counted, as remarkably bookies paid out all bets on Spurs winning, as the decision was as a huge miscarriage of justice. Yet, it didn’t lead directly to goal line technology being introduced. It cannot be denied though, that it was a terrible decision from both officials involved and the sportsmanship of Carroll comes into question, as he knew that the ball had gone in. 

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