One of the features of every World Cup is the vast lengths players will go to convince a referee they’re hurt or almost mortally wounded in a challenge. This is done simply to gain an advantage over the other side. In a competition where you may only play five or six times, if that advantage means you win a match then it has huge implications for your team.
Two of the most infamous instances of conning a referee into believing they were injured occurred in 1998 and 2002.
In 2002 in South Korea, Brazil were up against Turkey in the opening game of Group C. Brazil were 2-1 up, having been a goal down with Rivaldo’s penalty three minutes before the end looking to have settled the match. Deep into injury time the Brazilians were ‘trying to run the clock down’ by wasting as much time as possible. They had a corner on the right and Rivaldo was going to take it. He stood next to the corner flag, with the ball just lying on the pitch a few yards from him. Looking for all the world as if he was waiting for a little porter to come on and bring it to him. Turkish midfielder, Hakan Ursan, was clearly frustrated with this blatant abuse of time, so he walked over and kicked the ball at the lauded Brazilian. The ball hit Rivaldo on his legs and he was immediately castled, rolling around on the ground as if he’d been shot. But the icing on the cake was the fact he was holding his face and for a brief moment it appeared Ursan had kicked the ball into Rivaldo’s face. Our opinions were soon altered when the replay clearly showed Rivaldo being hit on his legs yet he was holding his face.
The referee, who only got one look at the incident, believed Rivaldo’s version and awarded a yellow card to the Turk, who’d been booked earlier in the game, and as a result meant he was sent-off and banned for two matches. Rivaldo, one of the most revered player of his generation, had conned the referee and thought he’d conned the watching world. FIFA eventually caught with the coverage and fined him £4,500. They didn’t recind poor Ursan’s red card, though.
Rewind four years to France ’98 and the Semi-Final stage at Stade de France. France are up against Croatia and after conceding first they are 2-1 up, with about 15 minutes to go. The French have a free-kick on the left level with the edge of the penalty area. Both teams have about five players each in the box and as the kick comes over, Croatian defender goes down holding his face. The ball is hit too long and goes out for a goal-kick, but the referee has blown for an infringement. He walks up to Laurent Blanc, the ever reliable French central defender, and shows him the red card. Evidently, Blanc had struck Bilic as they jostled for space in the area just before the ball was delivered. Again the watching world thought this was a stupid attack from the Frenchman when a World Cup Final appearance beckoned. But, as with the Rivaldo incident, replays soon gave us the real truth.
As Bilic grabbed hold of Blanc’s shirt the Frenchman turned away from the ball and in an attempt to free himself from the Croatian’s clutches, slapped Bilic in the throat with the palm of his hand. Bilic, sensing an opportunity, went down holding his head as if Blanc had punched him. Blanc had receive straight red card yet immediately received sympathy from the viewing public. He’d been cheated out of an appearance in the Final, the pinnacle of any footballer’s career. At 32 it was clearly going to be his only chance of a World Cup Final and in one act of skulduggery it had been taken from him. Bilic, who was playing his football at Everton at the time, has struggled to shake off the ignominy of the incident especially when compared to his ‘nice guy’ image. What was worse for Blanc was that his replacement was Chelsea’s Frank Leboeuf, who seemed hardly fit to lace Blanc’s boots but actually gave a good account of himself in the Final.
Again, FIFA may well have subsequently agreed a red card wasn’t deserved, they didn’t recind it, Blanc sat out the Final, Lebouef got a winner’s medal but the only saving grace is the invention of youtube has meant few will ever forget the antics of Rivaldo and Bilic.