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List of 2002 FIFA World Cup controversies

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The 2002 FIFA World Cup created many controversies, mainly on the standard of refereeing.



There was much controversy over the refereeing in the tournament; FIFA officials have even criticised the quality of refereeing in the tournament.[1] This led to a series of reforms for the next competition.[2] One effect of the officiating controversies was to open discussion of the eligibility of referees from certain less-established footballing countries in the competitiion.[3] Another was the introduction of the requirement of the referee and assistants speaking the same language, to avoid possible communication errors. This was done by requiring match officials to come from the same country,[4][5][6][7] as well as additionally needing English proficiency.[8][9]

In total Italy had at least 3 goals disallowed in the finals,[10] in the group stage against Croatia[11][12][13] and one against South Korea.[14]

The progress of South Korea into the later stages was the subject of much debate. Questionable decisions in the Italy-South Korea match resulted in 400,000 email complaints.[15] The Spain-South Korea match featured two controversially disallowed Spanish goals, though FIFA dismissed the incidents as human error.[16]

The decisions have regularly been cited as some of the worst in the competition's history.[17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27]

FIFA President Blatter while strongly condemning the calibre of certain refereeing,[16] denied any conspiracy.[28][29][30] Despite the criticisms, Blatter dismissed the possibility of technology aids being introduced for the time being. [31]

In the aftermath of the tournament, a 286-page technical survey was released.[32] In this report, FIFA described the general standard of officiating as 'good', but noted that linesmen were responsible for more of the mistakes made during the tournament,[33] identical to a conclusion reached by a brief discussion of this document.[34] The authors made little other mention of errors in the short discussion on referee performance, other than the statement observing that "Football is a game played by humans".[33][34]

Turkey vs Brazil (group stage)[edit]

Rivaldo was criticized for simulation that got a Turkish player sent off. While the ball was kicked at Rivaldo's thighs, he went down clutching his face. When asked about his behaviour in this incident, he replied: "But what could I do? He was the violent one."[35]

Rivaldo was later fined by FIFA.[36][37]

Turkey were the recipients of two questionable red cards: this was the second of them; the first had occurred for a foul that appeared to occur outside the Turkish goal area. Nonetheless, a penalty was still given to Brazil.[38][39][40]

England vs Argentina[edit]

In the England-Argentina group stage game, Michael Owen confessed to having dived over Pocchettino's leg to win the penalty that produced the only goal.[41][42]<[43][44][45]

In the years since the incident, Owen has indicated that he only did so since he felt it was better than trying to play one's way through a challenge or tackle.

Italy vs South Korea[edit]

The round of 16 match between Italy and South Korea refereed by Ecuadorian Byron Moreno was particularly controversial.[26][46][47][48][49][28][50]

The Italians had a goal disallowed, as well as Francesco Totti sent off after receiving a second yellow card for allegedly diving in the penalty area. However, replays suggested contact between Totti and his opponent,[16] and the decision to red-card Totti was later described as wrong by a FIFA official.[51]

On the matter, FIFA President Blatter opined: "Italy's elimination is not only down to referees and linesmen who made human not premeditated errors... Italy made mistakes both in defence and in attack."[52][53][54]

Moreno was subsequently struck off the FIFA approved referee list.[27]

Spain vs South Korea[edit]

Spain had two goals disallowed in this match; the first for a foul and the whistle was blown for a goal kick before the 2nd one. These were questionable as no foul was apparently committed and a linesman wrongly ruled the ball had crossed the goal line.[26]

Several Spanish players confronted referee Gamal Ghandour of Egypt after the match. Iván Helguera referred to the match's result as "a robbery"[16] and led to Spanish press brandishing the officials "thieves of dreams".

USA vs Germany[edit]

A German defender handled the ball on the goal line, but no goal or penalty was given.[55][56]


In the Cameroun vs Germany match, 16 yellow cards were shown to 14 different players, leading to 2 red cards (one per side).

Other matches with more than one red card include Brazil vs Turkey, Slovenia vs Paraguay, Portugal vs South Korea.

In the cases of Portugal and Turkey, both the red cards in their respective games were given to these sides.

Play-acting continued to be a problem in this World Cup, with Rivaldo being punished by FIFA and other incidents disputed by fans and commentators. This was despite FIFA having identified diving as an issue for the cup.[57]


Senegalese Fadiga was involved in a shoplifting incident on the eve of the competition, reminiscent of that in Bogota decades earlier. [58][59] He would go on to play a leading role in his country's impressive World Cup debut, despite the accusations.

The scorer of the Korean golden goal against Italy, Ahn, was controversially dismissed by his Italian club apparently for his comments after the match. He was told by Perugia's president, Luciano Gaucci, that he would never play for the club again,[60] only for Gaucci to have a change of mind[61] the following day. Ahn later refused their offer to play for them, but later also admitted that the decision to release him was taken before the match.[62]

Ireland captain Roy Keane was sent home for his leading role as a mutineer in the Saipan incident, and Slovenia had a player sent home for an argument with his coach.[63][64][65][66]

Riots broke out in Russia after their 1-0 loss to Japan. A mob took the streets and started burning Japanese cars; two people were killed. Violence also occurred after England's victory over Denmark.

Cameroun were nearly banned due to their kit, which was thought to resemble track suits.[67][68]


  1. Cup refereeing 'best ever'.Posted: Saturday, July 1, 2006. 2:45am AEST
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2006/jun/27/worldcup2006.football
  3. Meier restores referees' reputation. Simon Evans; June 25, 2002 | 2015 IST
  4. Does the World Cup Have a Lingua Franca? How to curse out a referee from another country. By Daniel Engber, Slate.com, June 15 2006 5:29 PM.
  5. World Cup Referees In 'We've Been Training Properly' Shocker. Thursday, April 27, 2006.
  6. The alternative guide to the World Cup. John Morris, The Independent, Saturday 03 June 2006.
  7. Blunders not limited to World Cup officials from football’s diaspora. Simon Burnton, The Guardian, Tuesday 17 June 2014 10.57 BST.
  8. The Problem With World Cup Referees, by Joshua Robinson. Wall Street Journal online, updated June 10, 2014 2:56 a.m. ET.
  9. World Cup refs told to speak English, ESPN FC. Mar, 21, 2006
  10. http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/chicanery-the-biggest-worry-for-trapattoni-1.757950
  11. https://travelnotes.org/worldcup/world_cup_finals/korea-japan2002/korea-japan/matches/Italy-Croatia.htm
  12. http://www.planetworldcup.com/CUPS/2002/groupg_mex_v_ita.html
  13. https://www.inter.it/en/news/3077/world-cup-2002-italy-croatia-1-2-controversy-call-by-the-linesman-larsen
  14. World Cup: 25 stunning moments … No21: Italy lose to South Korea in 2002. Paolo Bandini, Guardian.co.uk, Sunday 1 June 2014 10.00 BST
  15. Hiddink: Let’s Party Like it’s 2002. Wall Street Journal Blog, 6:54 pm KST, Jul 4, 2012.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Hayward, Paul (23 June 2002). "Korean miracle spoilt by refereeing farce". Telegraph. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  17. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sports/football/fifa-world-cup/flashback-poor-refereeing-mars-2002-fifa-world-cup/articleshow/64433038.cms
  18. "World Cup 101: Ten most controversial moments – ESPN Soccernet". Soccernet.espn.go.com. 11 July 2010. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  19. The 7 Most Controversial World Cup Moments Ever. By Outside of the Boot on May 1, 2014.
  20. 10 Worst World Cup Refereeing Decisions | By pa.press.net 5/16/13.
  21. By Stephanie Marcus/Jun 15, 2010 6 Best FIFA World Cup Controversies of the Past 20 Years, [VIDEO]
  22. 10 Controversies from Recent World Cups. June 16, 2010
  23. The 12 Biggest Controversies in World Cup History. By Andrew Jordan
  24. http://www.sportskeeda.com/football/10-most-controversial-world-cup-games Jun 17 201410 Most Controversial World Cup Matches
  25. https://www.thescore.com/news/509575 The 6 most controversial moments in World Cup history ... May 29, 2014
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 The Taeguk Warriors - South Korea's Controversial 2002 World Cup. 20 Jul 2011, by Chris Petherbridge.
  27. 27.0 27.1 World's worst refereeing decisions. By Andrew Benson, BBC Sport. Last updated Wednesday, 5 January, 2005, 13:34 GMT. Note: contains error about chronology of Korea Rep's matches.
  28. 28.0 28.1 FIFA president denies Korean conspiracy, Daily Mail.
  29. https://www.theguardian.com/football/2002/jun/24/worldcupfootball2002.sport17
  30. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/blatter-issues-conspiracy-denial-1.427511
  31. Sepp Blatter replies. Last Updated: Thursday, 13 March, 2003, 18:23 GMT.
  32. 286-page Technical Report now published, (FIFA.com) 20 Sep 2002. Part 1; Part 2
  33. 33.0 33.1 See Technical report, pg 22.
  34. 34.0 34.1 World Cup : Korea/Japan 2002 FIFA Technical Report, Everything2.com
  35. Fifa WC 2002 official film.
  36. http://www.news24.com/xArchive/Sport/Soccer/Rivaldo-fined-for-play-acting-20020605
  37. http://www.cbc.ca/m/sports/soccer/fifa-fines-brazil-s-rivaldo-1.333877
  38. World Cup history: Redemption for Beckham but Brazil lift trophy again in Japan/South Korea 2002, SkySports.com. Retrieved 11 Jan 2016.
  39. 2002 WORLD CUP, Tripod.com. Retrieved 11 Jan 2016.
  40. World Cup Memories – Japan/South Korea 2002. Political Footballs: Politics, Sport and Television. Retrieved 11 Jan 2016.
  41. Former England international Owen comes clean on THAT tumble against Argentina. By Laura Williamson Published: 21:30 GMT, 10 October 2012 | Updated: 21:30 GMT, 10 October
  42. https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/news-and-comment/who-is-mauricio-pochettino-8457623.html
  43. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/10436073/Michael-Owen-I-dont-think-that-in-my-career-I-ever-actually-dived-I-certainly-went-down-on-occasions.html
  44. https://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/michael-owen-admits-diving-against-12120216
  45. http://www.90min.com/posts/4221032-mauricio-pochettino-cites-bitter-memory-of-michael-owen-as-proof-the-english-are-also-divers
  46. Infamous South Korea-Italy World Cup 2002 Referee Byron Moreno Arrested For Heroin Possession. By Rick D'Andrea Sep 21, 2010 23:00:00
  47. The 2002 World Cup Conspiracy. Trouble and Squeak.com: Ramblings, Thoughts, Beliefs, Ideas and Theories.
  48. The robbery in Korea – South Korea’s controversial progress in the 2002 World Cup Finals . Garry Passarella (www.garrypassarella.co.uk)
  49. SOCCER; Italy Sees Nothing But Red in Loss To South Korea. By GEORGE VECSEY. Published: June 19, 2002, New York Times.
  50. http://www.offtheball.com/When-a-World-Cup-goal-made-a-South-Korean-footballer-person-non-grata-at-an-Italian-club
  51. A dive that wasn't: FIFA concedes Totti's simulation was the real thing, SMh.com. June 22 2002.
  52. http://www.pulse.ng/sports/football/federation-of-international-football-association-fifa-accused-of-match-fixing-in-2002-world-cup-id3810990.html.
  53. http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20020621/football/linesmen-have-been-a-disaster-says-blatter.172777
  54. http://www.eurosport.com/football/south-korea-results-from-2002-world-cup-now-under-scrutiny_sto4758133/story.shtml
  55. http://thesefootballtimes.co/2016/04/10/germany-2002-the-worst-world-cup-finalists-ever/
  56. http://ussoccerplayers.com/2013/10/remembering-the-us-in-the-2002-world-cup.html
  57. http://www.skysports.com/football/news/12027/2238543/rivaldo-escapes-ban
  58. WORLD CUP NOTES: Shop-lifting, hooligan thwarted, finger food ... May 30th, 2002 12AM.
  59. Senegal's Fadiga receives excuses and gift from Daegu shop. 31 may 2002 23:56:00.
  60. "Gaucci said he would no longer employ Ahn". BBC Sport. 20 June 2002. Retrieved 27 June 2011.
  61. "Perugia forgive Ahn". 25 June 2002. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  62. https://www.theguardian.com/football/2002/jun/20/worldcupfootball2002.sport18
  63. http://theworldgame.sbs.com.au/zahovic-booted-out
  64. http://www.11v11.com/players/zlatko-zahovic-7023/
  65. http://jerseyeveningpost.com/sport/uk-sport/2018/06/18/5-players-who-left-the-world-cup-early/
  66. http://www.mediamaxnetwork.co.ke/445735/players-expelled-from-the-world-cup/
  67. The worst World Cup kits: Cameroon - 2002 Andy Young, MSN, 05/07/2010 17:20.
  68. World Cup: History behind the kits. 5: Cameroon controversy. Yahoo Sport New Zealand, Mar 4, 2014.

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