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Most controversial calls by World Cup referees

Referee Enrique Roberto Osses from Chile  shows a yellow card to Argentina's Pablo Zabaleta during a World Cup qualifying soccer game  against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013
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Referee Enrique Roberto Osses from Chile shows a yellow card to Argentina's Pablo Zabaleta during a World Cup qualifying soccer game against Paraguay in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

The World Cup focuses on the players and the fans but ignores one important person: the referee. That is, until one of them makes a questionable call. Let's take a stroll down memory lane and look back at some of the more controversial decisions made by referees in World Cups past.

1. 1986 - Argentina vs. England; Maradona’s “hand of God” goal

To this day, the 1986 World Cup is considered to be Maradona’s best performance for Argentina. But the “hand of God” goal that he scored against England is also a topic that continues to arouse controversy. As Maradona ran up to challenge for the ball with England keeper, Peter Shilton, it can clearly be seen that the Argentine's hand is stretched out and directs the ball towards the goal. The referees allowed the goal, which helped secure Argentina's victory in a tight  2-1 match. Was it a lucky mistake when he went up against Shilton, or was it a deliberate plan to get the ball in the goal no matter what? And regardless of the motive, should the referee have allowed it?

2. 1966 - England vs. West Germany; "One (Debatable) World Cup"

Referee Gottfried Dienstand and linesman Tofik Bakhramov allowing Geoff Hurst's controversial goal for England in the final, not only gave the host nation the win, it also cast a shadow of controversy over their most glorious moment as a soccer nation, as that goal assured their win over their rivals, making them World Cup champions in 1966. The ref's questionable decision would have lasting effects, including England’s “Two World Wars and One World Cup” chant that bashes on the German country to this day. Take a look at the video for yourself. What do you think, goal or no goal? 

[Video: Soccer chants you'll hear at the World Cup this summer]

3. 2010 - England vs. Germany; Frank Lampard scored… No? Okay.

Ah, revenge is sweet. This game favored Germany most of the time. But with the scoreline 2-1 and England seemingly fighting their way back into the match, every shot mattered—especially Frank Lampard’s. His strike from just outside the 18 hit the top of the German team’s goal post and deflected downwards, much like Geoff Hurst's strike 44 years earlier. Only this time,  the ball clearly passed the line but was disallowed as a goal by the referees. The English side suffered elimination as a result of this controversial loss, helping to stir the debate regarding goal-line technology. As a direct or indirect result of this call, goal-line technology was put to use in the most recent BPL season, where it worked smoothly. Similar technology will also be used for the first time in the World Cup this summer in Brazil. (Could’ve also helped out England but the past is in the past...right?)

4. 2010 – France vs. Ireland; Thierry Henry’s "hand of frog"

While this might technically not be a goal from the World Cup tournament itself, France striker Thierry Henry’s deliberate handball during a World Cup qualifying match in 2009 is definitely worthy of being on this list. It was this slight handball that allowed Henry to keep the ball in play and to pass it to teammate William Gallas, who scored to ensure France’s passage to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Despite the Irish arguing with the referee, the goal was allowed to stand. What makes this call even more controversial was during a post-game interview, Henry himself admitted to the handball and offered Ireland a rematch that FIFA rejected to schedule. (Sorry, Ireland…maybe in 2018).

5. 2010 - Mexico vs. Argentina; Always an offside, never a call

When Argentina's Carlos Tevez scored against Mexico during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, many on “El Tri’s” side called it an offside play. Replays would later confirm that it was. But what is more controversial about this play was when those in charge of the stadium screen decided to replay the goal, clearly showing to both fans and more importantly, the Mexican players, that Tevez was indeed offside. Feeling it was too late to change anything (and after some discreet discussion amongst themselves), the referees made the decision to allow the goal to stand for Argentina.

[Story: Tevez excluded from Argentina World Cup squad]

6. 2006 - Croatia vs. Australia; The Tale of Two Cards

Croatia’s Joe Simunic is one lucky guy. During one of the matches against Australia in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, English referee Graham Poll made the mistake of giving Simunic three yellow cards in the same game before sending him off. Even though Australian players argued after the second card that Simunic should be sent off, Poll allowed him to continue playing (whoops).

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