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Dirtiest matches in World Cup history

Amid the attacking thrills and spills of a sensational 2018 World Cup, the dramatic clash between England and Colombia in Moscow last Tuesday was a throwback to another era with plenty of needle and eight yellow cards. But where does it rank alongside the other big battles in World Cup history?

1. Italy vs Chile, Chile 1962

Christened the Battle of Santiago, television presenter David Coleman introduced “highlights” by calling it “the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football in the history of the game.” After the first foul 12 seconds into the game, Chile players started spitting at their opponents and fights kicked off all over the pitch. The biggest surprise was that English referee Ken Aston sent off only two players, both Italian. Chile’s Sanchez escaped despite breaking the nose of an opponent with a right hook. In the aftermath, the very future of the World Cup was questioned. Aston later helped to introduce the yellow and red card system to avoid a repeat.

2. Spain vs Holland, South Africa 2010

English referee Howard Webb handed out a World Cup final record 14 cards, including a red for Holland’s Johnny Heitinga, but was still criticised for being too lenient as the Dutch abandoned their purist football to try and stop Spain’s tiki-taka with a show of force. There were five bookings in 13 minutes at one stage and Nigel de Jong was fortunate not to be red-carded for a high karate kick on Xabi Alonso that damaged his ribs.

3. England vs Colombia,  Russia 2018

Referee Mark Geiger brandished eight yellow cards, six of them to Colombian players, as the last-16 tie in Moscow threatened to get out of control. Wilmar Barrios was fortunate to escape a dismissal with a butt on Jordan Henderson and there was a hostile reaction when Geiger awarded England a penalty. Radamel Falcao lost the plot when Harry Maguire wasn’t punished for an alleged dive. There were also attempts to scuff the penalty spot and an alleged elbow on Raheem Sterling from a member of Colombia’s coaching staff.

4. Italy vs Argentina, Spain 1982

“Stop Diego Maradona and you’ll stop Argentina” were the Italian tactics, with their hard-man defender Claudio Gentile nominated as chief destroyer. Gentile committed 23 fouls on Maradona alone and was considered fortunate to stay on the pitch after being booked after 42 minutes, already the fifth caution of the game. Ironically, it was Argentina who suffered the only sending-off—Americo Gallego punished for a blatant push—as they were beaten 2-1.

5. West Germany vs Holland, Italy 1990

The last-16 match was viewed by the two fierce rivals as a virtual final, and an unpleasant game was capped by Frank Rijkaard spitting at Germany’s Rudi Voller. Rijkaard had caught Voller with a scything tackle and was accused of spitting at him in anger after receiving a yellow card. Voller and Rijkaard then clashed again after Voller clattered into Dutch ‘keeper Hans van Breukelen and Rijkaard stamped on him in retaliation. Both Voller and Rijkaard were sent off.

Dutchman walked past his adversary he spat at him in clear view of the TV cameras.

6. Portugal vs Holland, Germany 2006

What was intended to be a feast of football between Portugal’s Golden Generation (Figo, Ronaldo et al) and the glamorous Dutch descended into a farce with a record number of yellow and red cards for a World Cup game. Referee Valentin Ivanov dished out four reds and 16 yellows with the dismissals shared out between Portugal’s Deco and Costinha, and Holland’s Khalid Boulahrouz and Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Costinha setting the ball rolling with a sliding tackle on Dutch midfielder Philippe Cocu. The great Figo escaped with a yellow after headbutting Mark van Bommel.

7. Scotland vs Uruguay, Argentina 1986

Uruguay required a draw to progress from their group at Scotland’s expense and achieved it despite Jose Batista being dismissed after 56 seconds for a tackle that floored Gordon Strachan. The South Americans did what they felt necessary to hold on for a goalless draw, with constant fouls designed to break up the rhythm of the game. A furious Scotland manager Alex Ferguson complained afterwards: “They have no respect for other peoples dignity.’ Scotland players accused Uruguay of standing on their ankles whilst pretending to pick them up after fouls.

8. Portugal vs Brazil, England 1966

The great Pele was deliberately targeted as holders Brazil were knocked out of the World Cup at Goodison Park. Pele had already been injured by strong-arm Bulgarian tactics in Brazil’s opening game but returned for the final group match against Portugal. Hatchet-man Joao Pinto sought to exploit Pele’s weakened knee and not only kicked him up in the air early on, he then kicked him again as the great Brazilian tried to get to his feet. Pele could hardly walk for the rest of the game.

9. Cameroon vs Argentina, Italy 1990

The greatest upset seen in the opening game of a World Cup, Diego Maradona and holders Argentina were shocked by the relative unknowns of Cameroon, who used brawn as well as brain to pull off their famous victory. They committed 30 fouls, compared to Argentina’s nine, and a third of them were on Maradona. And two Cameroon players were sent off, Andre Biyik and Benjamin Massing, whose foul on Claudio Caniggia was akin to a major NFL hit.

10. England vs Argentina, England 1966

England manager Alf Ramsey branded Argentina “animals” after a controversial quarter-final at Wembley that saw the South American’s captain Antonio Rattin refuse to leave the pitch after being sent off. Argentina were accused by the hosts of dirty tricks including spitting and pulling the ears of England players when the referee wasn’t looking. Rattin got his marching orders after refusing to stop nagging the officials, described as ‘violence of the tongue’. Ramsey banned his players for swapping shirts with their opponents after England’ s 1-0 victory.

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