Nigel de Jong on Xabi Alonso, Benjamin Massing hack in World Cup's top fouls
This article has been edited and originally appeared on ESPN FC on May 30, 2014.
The World Cup is home to the finest feats of skill and athleticism in football, but it has also seen many of the most violent and needless acts in history too.
Here are 10 of them ...
10. Nigel de Jong on Xabi Alonso, 2010
Netherlands clearly recognised their limitations against a brilliant Spain team in 2010 and decided to combat their opponents in a very literal sense: fouling, pushing, pulling, kicking and making the whole game a complete mess that was more or less impossible to officiate. Howard Webb did his best, handing out 14 yellow cards -- two to Johnny Heitinga -- but this was a lawless game for which he cannot really be blamed. That is, apart from the incident late on when Nigel de Jong, ostensibly "going for the ball" with his feet while Xabi Alonso preferred to use his head, planted his studs directly into the Spaniard's chest. Bafflingly, Webb only booked De Jong, which could possibly have been down to his positioning, behind Alonso and thus not able to see the full extent of De Jong's "challenge." "We felt satisfied we'd done a tough job in difficult circumstances to the best of our abilities," Webb said after the game. "It was an extremely challenging match to handle." Quite so.
9. Joao Pinto on Park Ji-sung, 2002
It's perhaps a little odd to refer to a foul as being "underrated" but this most definitely is, a foul not talked about nearly as much as some of the spicier efforts down the years. Portugal probably needed a win over South Korea but might have got away with a draw, in order to reach the second round of the World Cup in 2002, and were already under plenty of pressure in the rather scrappy early stages of the game. It's therefore pretty difficult to work out exactly what was going through Pinto's head after 27 minutes, when after a couple of niggly challenges he launched himself through the air, directly into the back of Park's knee. He was of course sent off, but perhaps the most astonishing thing about the incident is Pinto's, well, astonishment at his fate, affronted at the very idea of such an act being deemed illegal. It was one of the clearest sending-off offences one could wish to see, and while it has been said that South Korea benefited from some very friendly refereeing decisions in that tournament, this was not one of them.
8. Muhamed Mujic on Eduard Dubinski, 1962
The 1962 World Cup is most remembered, in the violence stakes at least, for the Battle of Santiago, but it is nearly impossible to pick just one foul from that astonishing encounter between Chile and Italy. It would be like picking a favourite grain of sand from a beach. While that game was particularly scrappy, it was just part of a culture of an entire tournament that would almost be defined by its violence. Even Garrincha, perhaps the outstanding player in the tournament, was lucky to avoid being suspended for the final, after being sent off for retaliating against some rough treatment in the semifinal. Perhaps the worst incident outside Italy vs. Chile came in the first-round match between Yugoslavia and the USSR, when Mujic broke the leg of Russian Dubinski, a foul that wasn't punished at the time but was serious enough for Mujic to be immediately suspended for a year by his own football federation; he never played for his country again. The story would have a rather tragic denouement too: partly thanks to the injury, Dubinski developed a sarcoma, a form of cancer, that contributed to his premature death seven years later, aged 34.
7. Harald Schumacher on Patrick Battiston, 1982
This list is about fouls, which are usually thought of as a kick upon your opponent's person, usually with some sort of nominal effort to win the ball. By that definition, things like Leonardo's elbow on Tab Ramos or Mauro Tassotti's on Luis Enrique in 1994 (what the hell was in the American water that summer?) don't really count as fouls per se, and in any case they have been dealt with in previous lists. However, it is probably worth mentioning this sub-category, which we'll call "Miscellaneous Assaults," and the best/worst (depending on your point of view) has to be Harald "Toni" Schumacher taking out Battiston in 1982. It wasn't just the act that was most unpleasant, but the way Schumacher dealt with it in the immediate aftermath. Remember that some of Battiston's teammates actually feared he was dead, Michel Platini saying he "had no pulse and looked pale," and had three teeth knocked out. "There is no compassion among professionals. If that's all that's wrong with him, tell him I'll pay for the crowns," said Schumacher upon hearing about the latter, sounding a little like Ivan Drago saying "If he dies, he dies" in Rocky IV. Schumacher later apologised, but whether he ended up paying for those new teeth is unclear.
6. Mihai Mocanu on England, 1970
Before the age when TV and the Internet made everyone an expert on every sort of football from around the globe, some players were a mystery until England came up against them. Sure, you'll have heard tell of Cruyff, Jairzinho and Mario Kempes, but below that very elite level of player, most were pawing in the dark. Mocanu never played club football outside Romania, so it's perhaps not a surprise that England might not have known who he was before their first group game in the 1970 World Cup, but they sure knew who he was afterwards. The Romanian left-back took aim at basically any player that ventured into his territory, firstly putting England right-back Terry Newton out of the game, then had a good go at his replacement Tommy Wright too, before turning his attentions to Franny Lee. "He must have created a new tackle, leaving identical bootprints on each knee," said Lee. This was an England squad that contained Norman Hunter, so for the England players to remark upon an opponent being particularly robust, he must have been quite the hacker.
5. Uli Hoeness on Johan Cruyff, 1974
This doesn't hold a candle to most of the other fouls on this list in the violence stakes, but it is probably more directly significant than most. The start of the 1974 World Cup final between West Germany and Netherlands was delayed after someone forgot to put the corner flags in, but once all the requisite paraphernalia was in place and they kicked off, it didn't take long to really get started. The Dutch knocked the ball around for a minute or so in their customary manner, before Cruyff dropped deep, drove through the heart of the German side, slaloming past players hither and thither, before Hoeness took him out, inches inside the area. Johan Neeskens stepped up to smack the penalty home and the Dutch were on their way. Or so they thought, as they attempted to humiliate the Germans by running rings around them, absent-mindedly forgetting to actually score any more goals. They lost 2-1.
4. Joao Morais on Pele, 1966
Morais was included in the World Cup villains Top Tenner, but it's worth reiterating how brutal he was in the 1966 tournament, and not just because of the man he was brutalising. Trying to kick Pele out of games when he was at the height of his powers was not a particularly novel tactic, but it was one that Portugal, and Morais in particular, mastered. The Brazilian already had a knee injury going into the game, and the Portuguese targeted it with some vigour, hacking away and generally causing a fair amount of distress to the great man. And then Morais struck what would essentially be the "knockout" blow, slicing Pele down not once but twice, the second seemingly the one that did the most damage to that already hurt knee. Pele stayed on the pitch, but frankly wasn't much use to Brazil as he could barely walk by that point, never mind run, and never mind play football to his own absurd standards.
3. Werner Liebrich on Ferenc Puskas, 1954
The story of how the Hungary side of 1954 never won the World Cup their immense talents deserved has been told often, but did they miss out thanks to a foul in the first round? Hungary scored 17 goals in the group stage, which is even more remarkable than it sounds because they only played two games. They made short work of South Korea, beating them 9-0, before trouncing West Germany 8-3, a scoreline that actually flattered the Germans a little. However, perhaps the most significant act of the match came when German defender Liebrich took out Puskas with a brutal kick to the ankle, for which he was booked. It was, according to Puskas, "a vicious kick on the back of my ankle when I was no longer playing the ball," and while the Germans denied Puskas was injured by the incident (but then again, they would), Hungary's star man was missing for the quarters and semifinals. He returned for the final, also against West Germany, but was nowhere near fit, the "Miracle of Bern" occurred, and Hungary's best chance of winning the World Cup was gone.
2. Paul Gascoigne on Thomas Berthold, 1990
Most of the fouls on this list have been chosen as noteworthy because of their brutality, but this one makes it due to its significance on a player, and arguably a whole country. We all know what happened during extra time of the semifinal between England and West Germany, when Gascoigne let the ball get away from him in midfield and, in an honest if rather over-enthusiastic attempt to win it back, fouled Berthold, but the previous yellow card in the tournament is not talked about as much. That came during England's second-round game against Belgium, as the clock ticked down and frustration grew, Bobby Robson's side unable to break down a team they were expected to beat. Enzo Scifo had the ball just inside the England half, near the touchline and facing away from goal. It was a foul you could see coming as soon as Gascoigne started to move, as he took a healthy run-up and ploughed through the back of the Belgian playmaker in a manner that might have brought a red card today.
It was, in short, utterly stupid, so while one naturally has sympathy for anyone who thought he was going to miss the World Cup final after the Berthold foul, it's difficult to say that it was anything other than his own fault. Gascoigne of course lost his thread briefly, Gary Lineker famously telling Robson to have a word with the errant youngster, who began crying right there on the pitch. "I didn't realise that would be the only World Cup I would play in, y'know?" said Gascoigne years later, and one can only imagine what his reaction would have been if he did know.
In the end Gascoigne only missed a third-place playoff, but perhaps more importantly his emotional state meant he didn't take a penalty in the shootout that would eliminate England. "I doubt if he could actually have taken one, he was so distraught," Robson said. "He broke down in the middle of the pitch when the penalties were being taken." Chris Waddle stepped up instead, and we all know how that went.
1. Benjamin Massing on Claudio Cannigia, 1990
The daddy. The gold standard. The foul against which all other fouls are judged. For Argentina, defending champions, to lose the first game of the 1990 World Cup to a ragtag bunch like Cameroon (who were in some disarray before the tournament) was embarrassing enough, but when one considers they managed to lose to nine men ... well, it's amazing they didn't all go home and lock themselves in their rooms, vowing to never emerge again. While Cameroon were the feelgood story of that World Cup and everyone loved them, it's worth remembering they were a remarkably violent team, in this match in particular. They picked on Diego Maradona especially, booting the fun-sized genius around at every opportunity, and even before Benjamin Massing wound up for that foul, Cameroon had already had one player, Andre Kana-Biyik, sent off for a foul on Claudio Caniggia. That decision that was frankly a little harsh, the offence being more a tangle of legs as Caniggia broke free than anything especially vicious.
However, the second red card, coming after Francois Omam-Biyik had scored the only goal of the game, was perhaps, on balance, a little more clear-cut. Argentina were chasing the game, and Caniggia launched a counterattack from deep in his own half, skipping past Emmanuel Kunde, then just about evading an attempted assault from Victor N'Dip, before Massing stepped in to wipe the forward out in the most brutal manner. This foul, so brutal that Massing's boot came free of his foot, was actually only considered worthy of a yellow card, his second of the game, although referee Michel Vautrot was seemingly so discombobulated by the whole thing that he issued the red first, then the yellow. Massing then capped things by attempting to kick Jorge Burruchaga -- who had stepped in to understandably voice his displeasure -- in the thigh. It was perhaps summed up best by Pete Davies, in his memoir of the tournament, All Played Out, in which he wrote: "The general intention seemed to be not so much to break Caniggia's legs, as actually to separate them from the rest of his body."
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.