The World Cup's worst fouls: The beautiful game at its ugliest

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Soccer is known for violence off the field, but things can get pretty rough on the pitch as well. Few fans will forget how star French midfielder Zinedine Zidane head-butted Italy's Marco Materazzi to the ground, got expelled and may have cost France the title in the 2006 cup. But Zidane was keeping alive a tradition of onfield violence and abuse.

In the 1954 World Cup, hosted by Switzerland, hostilities between top contenders Hungary and Brazil became so intense that the Brazilians carried the brawl into the Hungarian locker room. In the '62 tournament in Chile, the matches were regularly marred by on-field fighting, the worst example being a bout between the host team and Italy that the BBC at the time called "the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game."

Today, Web sites chronicle and debate the worst fouls ever in World Cup play. Their choices range from the merely disgusting -- Iraq's Samir Shaker Mahmoud getting a one-year ban for spitting on a referee during the 1986 cup -- to the truly appalling, as when Brazil's Leonardo took down America's Tab Ramos in the 1994 tournament, in the process fracturing Ramos's skull. Arguably the dirtiest play in World Cup history came in 1982, when Germany's goalkeeper, Harald Schumacher, launched himself into the air to wipe out France's oncoming Patrick Battiston -- resulting in a temporary coma, a damaged spine and a couple of missing teeth for the French defender. (No foul was called, and Germany went on to win that semifinal match in a penalty shoot-out.)

-- David J. Rothkopf

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