The World Cup in Russia will be an opportunity for some of the leading football players on the planet to cover themselves in glory. The likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Hazard and Neymar will spearhead their nation’s pursuit of football’s most prestigious trophy.
For every hero at the tournament in Russia, there is sure to be a villain; no story is complete without one. With less than two weeks to go until the tournament kicks off, we’ve taken a look back at some of the more memorable bad guys in football history.
Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos drew the ire of football fans globally for his tackle on Liverpool star Mo Salah in the 2018 Champions League Final. Salah remains in doubt to take the field for Egypt in their opening game of the World Cup in Russia. The Spanish hatchet man is no stranger to controversy and has picked up a record 24 red cards in domestic football. Ramos deserves an honourable mention for his part in potentially wrecking Egypt’s World Cup chances.
One of the finest players of his generation, Maradona produced two iconic World Cup moments in the 1986 quarter-final against England. The Argentinian playmaker’s iconic handball put his side ahead against the Three Lions and ensuring his place as one of the greatest all-time World Cup villains. In the same game, he scored one of greatest individual goals in World Cup history, beating a host of English players to help Argentina win 2-0.
The mercurial Dutch winger has scored some memorable goals for Bayern Munich and the Dutch national side. The winger has developed the reputation as a diver and the slightest touch is enough to send him tumbling as if he has been shot by a sniper’s bullet. In the 2014 World Cup, it was a Robben dive against Mexico that helped the Netherlands to a controversial 2-1 win in Brazil.
One of the members of England’s golden generation, Mr Posh Spice became public enemy number one in the UK when he was sent off for lashing out at Argentinean defender Diego Simone. England were beaten on penalties and the Manchester United midfielder was made the scapegoat for England’s shortcomings at the 1998 World Cup.
Neutral football fans prefer to remember Italian defender Fabio Grosso for his part in helping Italy reclaim the trophy in 2006 and not for his performance in the win against Australia. With the Italians down to ten-men, it took a dive from Grosso in the last minute of regular time to help the Azzurri secure a penalty that helped them win in controversial circumstances.
Materazzi was an uncompromising defender who had won five Serie-A titles and was a key member of the Italian side that reached the 2006 Final against France. The Italian defender provoked Zinedine Zidane in extra time and Zidane retaliated with a headbutt. The defender’s over the top reaction, ensured that Zidane became only the fourth player to be sent off in a World Cup final. It emerged that Materazzi made a slur towards the French star’s sister provoking fierce condemnation from the general public.
The aggressive Portuguese defender Pepe won plenty of silverware during his time at Real Madrid but let his team-mates in the national team down during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Pepe was the villain in the Group G game against Germany when he was shown a straight red card for his headbutt on Germany’s Thomas Müller.
The Uruguayan human headline has scored some magnificent goals in his time for Liverpool and Barcelona but also has had more than his fair share of controversy at the World Cup. During the 2010 tournament in South Africa, Suárez drew on some inspiration from Maradona as he slapped away a certain goal against Ghana. Suárez celebrated widely on the sideline when Ghana missed the penalty, forcing the match into a shootout. Then at the 2014 tournament in Brazil, Suárez earned a four-month ban from the game after biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini.