Thursday, Jun. 24, 2010

Brief History: World Cup Meltdowns

When the president gets involved in a sports controversy, you know it's serious. Such was the case after the French team's strike in support of player Nicolas Anelka, who was dismissed for allegedly making nasty comments about his coach. But not even an intercession by Nicolas Sarkozy could prevent France from making an early exit from this year's tournament.

World Cup petulance is nothing new, both off the pitch and on. Indeed, the first final, back in 1930, involved a petty disagreement between Uruguay and Argentina over whose ball to use. The solution: the teams played with Argentina's ball during the first half and Uruguay's in the second. The 1962 "Battle of Santiago," between Chile and Italy, was described by the BBC's David Coleman as "the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game." The match was so brutal that it, along with a 1966 England-Argentina game, led referee Ken Aston to develop the current penalty system of red and yellow cards.

In the modern era, West Germany and the Netherlands' 1990 match has become best known for the Netherlands' Frank Rijkaard's spitting in Rudi Völler's hair. Twice. In 2002, Irish captain Roy Keane returned home before a ball had been kicked, blaming inadequate training facilities and berating manager Mick McCarthy with a savage rant. The same year, South Korea's Ahn Jung Hwan was fired by Perugia, the Italian team for which he played during the regular season, after his "golden goal" eliminated Italy.

And just as the first World Cup final didn't pass without incident, nor did the most recent. In 2006, France's Zinedine Zidane got sent off for his infamous head butt. As the French continue to prove, the more things change, the more they stay the same.