Henry, Van Persie, Maradona: What are the worst refereeing decisions ever?

Lampard denied Germany goal

It’s tough to imagine why anyone would want to be a referee. Possibly the most thankless task in all of football, even when an official gets all of their calls spot on, they are unlikely to receive much in the way of praise. Make a bad decision, however, and fans aren’t likely to let them forget it in a hurry.

Some refereeing decisions, though, have been so terrible that their legacy has lived on well past the final whistle of the match in which it was made.

Calls don’t come much more controversial than the decision to allow Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal at the 1986 World Cup, where the legendary Argentine clearly used his hand to divert the ball into the net against England.

It’s now been 36 years – and some Three Lions supporters still aren’t truly over it.

Maradona is far from the only player to have been allowed an unfair advantage thanks to a shocking piece of officiating as we take a look at some of football’s other shambolic refereeing blunders from down the years.

Frank Lampard’s ‘phantom’ goal | England vs Germany | 2010

England don’t have much luck at World Cup finals.

Lampard believed he had given his country a priceless equaliser in their round of 16 clash against Germany 12 years ago. His effort crashed against the underside of the bar, before clearly crossing the line.

It should have been 2-2. Everyone could see it, except apparently the match officials – who waved for play to continue.

Cruelly denied, Fabio Capello’s men fell to a 4-1 defeat and crashed out of the tournament.

Roy Carroll’s calamity | Tottenham vs Manchester United | 2005

If there’s one man who knows how Lampard feels, it’s former Spurs midfielder Pedro Mendes.

Mendes’ hopeful effort from the half-way line at Old Trafford should have been about as routine a save as they come for United ‘keeper Carroll.

The Northern Irishman made a right hash of the situation, though, eventually spilling the ball over his own goal line.

Somehow, those in charge failed to spot that very obvious fact, robbing Mendes of a perfectly legitimate goal.

Robin van Persie’s soft dismissal | Barcelona vs Arsenal | 2011

The Gunners had Barcelona on the ropes in this Champions League knock-out tie, leading 3-2 on aggregate with a little over 30 minutes left to play.

Arsenal’s hopes of a famous triumph at Camp Nou, though, would be dashed by a moment of complete nonsense from the referee.

In the act of chasing a through-ball at the always-lively stadium, Van Persie was flagged offside. However, because of the noise level inside the stadium, Van Persie clearly couldn’t hear the whistle and so continued to play on as normal, lashing a shot wide of the post.

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Watching the effort back, it’s definitely a geniune effort at goal, as opposed to a time-wasting tactic.

Unbelievably, the official didn’t agree and swiftly brandished a second yellow card of the night in Van Persie’s direction.

Badly hampered by the loss of one of their most important stars, Arsenal crumbled. Barca scored twice late on to dump the north London side out of Europe.

Nani’s red card | Man Utd vs Real Madrid | 2013

The Champions League played host to another shockingly harsh dismissal two years later, when Nani was given his marching orders for a high boot on Real’s Alvaro Arbeloa.

The Portuguese winger only had eyes for the ball – and came off just as badly as his opponent in the collision.

It didn’t matter to the official, though, as United were reduced to 10-men.

Soon after the Red Devils had their aggregate level wiped out by a merciless Los Blancos side who stunned Old Trafford as they marched into the quarter-finals of the competition.

Arturo Vidal’s sees red for perfectly-timed challenge | Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich | 2017

Four years later. Same Champions League knock-out story.

Vidal couldn’t have put in a more immaculate challenge on Marco Asensio in the 2017 quarter-final, with the tie tantalisingly balanced at 3-3.

It wasn’t even a foul, let alone a second yellow card. Bayern’s protests fell on deaf ears, though, and Real scored a trio of goals in extra-time to advance.

Nani’s handball ‘assist’ | Man Utd v Spurs | 2010

Mark Clattenburg’s had a total nightmare here.

After being denied a penalty in the latter stages of the match, Nani picks the ball up while it’s still in-play in one of the most blatant cases of handball you’ll ever see.

Everyone around Old Trafford assumes that a free-kick has been given, including Spurs’ goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes.

Well, it should have been, but it wasn’t.

Believing he’s got plenty of time to restart the match from a set-piece, Gomes casually rolls the ball out in from of himself.

Realising that the ball is still live after Clattenburg waves play on, Nani quickly strikes the ball past a sprawling (and confused) Gomes.

The goal is allowed to stand and United went on to secure a 2-0 win. Truly bizarre stuff.

Jan Vertonghen ‘offside’ in his own half | Spurs vs Sunderland | 2015

One of the foundations of the offside rule is that you can’t be penalised for it in your own half.

Vertoghen was easily the right side of the half-way line as Spurs broke to put the ball in the back of the net.

In a truly awful call, match officials ruled the effort out for offside, despite it not actually being possible.

Tom Henning Ovrebo’s entire performance | Chelsea vs Barcelona | 2009

You know it’s not been a good day at the office when the home side’s star striker starts calling you a “f****** disgrace” straight down the lens of a TV camera at the final whistle.

Blues legend Didier Drogba lost his head at Ovrebo’s performance during their 2009 Champions League semi-final encounter with Barcelona, where most observers agree Chelsea were denied a staggering four penalty-kicks by the official. They were ultimately eliminated on away goals after a late Andres Iniesta strike.

The man in the middle has since revealed that he realised his showing was under-par straight after the match, admitting to Panenka magazine in 2019: “I wish I had the help of the VAR that day.

“After the first half, my assistants and I felt that we had control. At the end of the match, however, I did not have that feeling. When I got to the dressing room I thought: ‘Okay, Tom Henning, this has not been your best night’.

“In the space of two hours, I went from being a fairly respected referee to becoming the biggest fool in international football,” he recalled.

Ovrebo required a police escort out of London and was even subjected to death threats following the match.

Thierry Henry’s handball | France vs Ireland | 2009

As much as England fans have some serious disdain for Maradona’s actions, many Irish fans feel the same way about Henry.

Having pushed a star-studded French side all the way to extra-time in a bid to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, Ireland’s hopes of competing in South Africa were shattered after Arsenal legend Henry blatantly handled the ball in the build-up to William Gallas’ winner for France.

The Irish players couldn’t believe the decision, but it stood.

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