French implosion in South Africa, 2010

French coach, Raymond Domenech suffered the ultimate humiliation at the hands of his players as strikes, rows, resignations and recriminations left the French in disarray on one of the darkest days in the country’s football history.

Domenech’s impotence was laid bare in extraordinary fashion after his players refused to train at their scheduled session, in protest at the FFF’s decision to send home Nicolas Anelka. The Chelsea striker argued with Domenech in the dressing room at half-time against Mexico, reportedly saying: “Go fuck yourself, you son of a whore.
Patrice Evra was seen with a letter for Domenech, which turned out to be a statement from the players. “All the players without exception want to declare their opposition to the decision taken by the FFF to exclude Nicolas Anelka from the squad” Domenech read.

The coach seemed to be caught between a rock and a hard place and the scene was described by some commentators as the most unbelievable in the history of Les Bleus. Inevitably, France finished 4th in a group of Uruguay, Mexico and South Africa.


South Korea does the 1966 again, 2002

The Azzurri’s reward for finishing as runners-up in Group G was a last-16 clash with South Korea. The host nation revelled in memories of their neighbours’ 1966 success against Italians. North and South Korea might be separate and hostile political entities but when it came to World Cup history, the sense of patriotism was shared. That was well reflected in the pre-game choreography by Korea’s fans.

After just four minutes, but they could not make the most of their opportunity. The crowd groaned as Buffon clawed away Ahn Jung-hwan’s spot-kick. Italy then lead 1–0 thanks to a Christian Vieri header, and barely looked like conceding a goal and had a quarter-final with Spain in their sights. If anyone knows how to defend a slim lead it is the Italians but this time their luck ran out.

An 88th-minute error by Christian Panucci allowed Seol Ki-hyeon an equaliser and suddenly the momentum was with Korea. Francesco Totti’s extra-time dismissal for a second booking — for an alleged dive — increased the psychological advantage enjoyed by their opponents. The golden goal rule means one mistake or moment of inspiration can decide a match. The gun was pointing at Italy.

It was a moment destined to go down in World Cup lore — Italy eliminated for a second time by a team from Korea. A reported three million people flooded the streets of Seoul in delirious celebration. But in the eyes of the Italian public, their team had not been beaten at all. Instead they had been robbed by a man named Byron Moreno, a portly referee from Ecuador.


The Bite, 2014

In the first half of Uruguay’s final group game against Italy, Luis Suárez launched a late, clumsy challenge on Pirlo, upending the playmaker with the subtlety of a man taking down a tree with a blunt axe. As Pirlo tumbled, a flailing forearm struck Suárez around the ear. Suárez, assuming the role of the wronged man, held his head, stared at Pirlo, looking hurt and shocked — that anyone could do such a thing !!

Around 40 minutes later, the score still 0–0, Suárez did similar. But this time the catalyst was something more unusual. Add Giorgio Chiellini’s name to the list with Otman Bakkal and Branislav Ivanovic: for the third time in his career, Suárez had bitten an opponent during a match…

Suárez explained in his autobiography that in both previous incidents, frustration caused his dental outbursts. And so it was again. “If I had scored the goal from an earlier chance,” he wrote, “then what followed would never have happened. I would not have done anything. Nothing.” So it was all Buffon’s fault, really… !!

The aftermath began quickly. Two days later, despite sticking to his story (“I lost my balance … hit my face against him, leaving a small bruise on my cheek and a strong pain in my teeth”), Fifa banned him for nine internationals, all football for four months and fined him 100,000 Swiss francs.

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