Those who think the FIFA World Cup is only about niceties and soccer aesthetics, think again. Bill Shankly’s mantra which suggests football is much more important than a matter of life and death bears itself out as individual players take the game’s law into their hands in pursuit of the Holy Grail that is World Cup success.
As recently at the Brazil 2014 finals, Uruguay star man Luis Suarez, then the reigning English Premier League player of the year, lost his marbles when he plunged canines into Italy defender Ghioghio Chellini. Suarez was suspended from world football for six months, costing his team dearly. It was not the first time Suarez had bit an opponent. Hehe also bit Branislav Ivanovic. So you might say the incident had nothing to do with the pressure cooker atmosphere that is World Cup football.
What happened with Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 final between Italy and France was very much out of character. Zidane had been the tournament’s stand out player on the road to the final, and had already converted a penalty for Raymond Domenech’s Les Bleus when, completely out of the blue, he head-butted Italy defender Marco Materazzi. Needless to remind you, Italy went on to win the final.
Long before Zidane was the infamous ‘Battle of Berne’ which took place at the 1954 World Cup. More than two hundred policemen were deployed to quell a riot between Brazilian and Hungarian players, benches and team delegations. During the match itself, three players were dismissed for violent conduct in the World Cup’s most violent game.
Swedish newspaper Dagbladet were scathing in their condemnation. “When empty bottles, stone throwing, fist fighting, scorning, police clubbing and vandalism are the context of a football match, the best thing to do is to stop the whole Cup,” they wrote.
Eight years later, at Chile 1962, the World Cup was blighted by the ‘Battle of Santiago’ between Chile and Italy. Incensed by Italian media jibes portraying Santiago as a ‘rundown city redolent of malnutrition, prostitution, illiteracy, alcoholism and wretchedness,” the Chileans decided to punish Italy’s Azzuri.
Italy’s Giorgio Ferrini was one of two Italians sent off. Police had to be invited to haul him off the pitch after he declined to follow his marching orders. Ferrini was clearly incensed that Chile’s Lionel Sanchez had not received a red card despite breaking Azzuri team mate Humberto Maschio’s nose with a fierce left hook.
At the 1982 World Cup in Spain, West Germany’s much heralded goalkeeper, Harald Schumacher, almost cost France defender Patrick Battiston his life after attacking him when he was through on goal in France’s semifinal game with West Germany. Astoundingly, Schumacher did not get sent off.
Therefore, as you bask in Russia 2018, don’t expect many teams to surrender themselves for slaughter like Saudi Arabia did in their 5-0 pummeling at the hosts’ hands. Fifa’s motto, “For The Game, For The World,” won’t matter as individual players treat matches as questions to be settled by ‘blood and iron’.