Football fever has already gripped the world, with fans across the globe donning the colours of the sides they will be cheering on at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The familiar names of Brazil, Germany, Argentina, France, and Spain dominate the odds to take the cup home, while the likes of Belgium, England, and Croatia – perennial underdogs – will be hoping to mount formidable challenges as the dark horses.
Going back through the pages of the history of this tournament reveal some enthralling tales of mighty squads and shock victories, and of 11 players who were able to unite entire nations behind their exploits. However, they also reveal other memories that are not so pleasant; moments when players were carried away with either emotion or greed, and twisted the beautiful game into something ugly.
We take a look here at three such instances in the history of the FIFA World Cup, which we could have really done without.
The Battle of Berne, 1954
It was slated to be a top contest between two of the greatest teams of that time. On the one hand was Brazil, renowned for attractive and aesthetic football. On the other, were the golden Hungarians, undefeated in the last four years, having perfected a system of football so efficient that no one could withstand their open, direct style.
The quarterfinal of the 1954 FIFA World Cup, however, far from being a spectacle of skill and talent, devolved into a fist fight by the end of the ninety minutes.
Three red cards (dismissals) and 44 fouls later, including two penalties, the extent of the fighting was such that it continued in the tunnels after the match ended, with the Hungarian manager requiring four stitches as a consequence of the clash. Hungary ultimately won the contest 4-2, but on everyone’s mind was the nature and scope of the violent play witnessed possibly for the first time in the tournament’s history.
Never before had players had such concern for violence, that breaking the opposition took priority over scoring a goal, as it did at the Battle of Berne. FIFA failed to act punitively.
The Disgrace of Gijón, 1982
If being passionate about a result to a point of violence is unacceptable, so is the apathy displayed by Austria and West Germany in this group stage match at the 1982 FIFA World Cup. The final result, a 1-0 win for West Germany, meant that, given the combination of points and goal differences, both West Germany and Austria qualified.
The disgrace, however, was in the manner that the match panned out. Prior to kickoff, Algeria – also in the same group – had ended their group stage with 4 points and a goal difference of zero. West Germany needed a win to progress, while all Austria needed was a draw. The catch, however, was that if West Germany were to win with a margin of 3-0 or higher, Austria would be knocked out and Algeria would progress.
What was witnessed was a spontaneous non-aggression pact between Austria and West Germany, where West Germany were allowed to take a quick lead, but the rest of the 90 minutes were marked by a deliberate attempt on part of all footballers on the pitch to not make an effort to score a goal.
It was so bad that the two teams’ own fans began to boo the proceedings, and the match was termed a disgrace to football. Algeria were knocked out, and unfortunately, no legal action was taken against either side.
The Colombian Own Goal, 1994
Possibly the most tragic moment in the history of the FIFA World Cup, Colombian defender Andrés Escobar scored an own goal in a group stage match at the 1994 World Cup, which ultimately resulted in Colombia being eliminated from the tournament. Ten days later, in his home town of Medellín, Escobar was gunned down in retaliation.
There are alternative accounts of the murder. Some say it was a revenge killing, others claim that the killers lost a lot of money betting on Colombia, while there are those who simply blame the lack of law and order in Colombia at the time for the incident.
Andrés Escobar remains a martyr in the eyes of the Colombian people, and an unfortunate occurrence at the highest footballing stage in the world spelled the young defender’s death at the hands of despicable people. Possibly the darkest hour of football.
While the dark side of the tournament has certainly been an occurrence for us fans to contend with, it no way takes away from the joy and glory the FIFA World Cup brings to millions of fans, and hundreds of players every four years. Here’s hoping that come Thursday, the teams assembled in Russia for the 2018 edition give us more to cheer for, and less to regret.
(Aritro Bose is a 20-year-old Economics major at Ashoka University. From writing poetry and fiction, to debating and public speaking, he loves his words. A deep-seated sense of curiosity fuels his multi-disciplinary interests, ranging from international politics to post-modern literature.)
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s personal views.