Top 10 Referee Blunders in Soccer

In recent years, referees have been in the limelight far too often, mostly for the wrong reasons. Some of these blunders have swung tournament outcomes and league title races in a matter of seconds.

This is in no way a definitive list of the worst 10 mistakes of all time, but here are some of the memorable worst refereeing decisions, all which have changed outcomes and created havoc among the media and soccer fans:


10. Frank Lampard’s ghost goal

England vs Germany (Round of 16, 2010 World Cup)

You win some and you lose some, and for Frank Lampard that was certainly the case when the England midfielder found himself involved in two refereeing blunders within a year.

During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, replays clearly showed that Lampard’s shot in the round of 16 match against Germany clearly crossed the goal line, but was not given by either the linesman or the referee. Fast forward to the Chelsea-Tottenham game of late April of 2011, replays showed that Lampard’s shot from distance against Tottenham did not cross the line completely. Nevertheless the goal was given, and Chelsea were given the equalizer just before half-time.

Lampard’s goal against Germany would have leveled the score at 2-2, and who knows what would have happened from there on. England then went on to concede twice in the second half and were 4-1 losers. It’s yet another of those ‘what if’ stories in world soccer.


9. Pedro Mendes’ goal for Tottenham

Manchester United vs Tottenham, 2005

Goalless after 88 minutes, Pedro Mendes of Tottenham Hotspur spotted Manchester United keeper Roy Carroll off his line and attempted an ambitious shot from just inside the attacking half. Carroll just got back in time to avoid making a mockery of himself, but what happened next was a moment to forget. The keeper spilled the ball into his own goal and then instantly covered up his mistake (and the goal) to scoop the ball back into play.

Spurs’ players were in disbelief, and Manchester United escaped with a dodgy point in the 0-0 draw.

When asked in an interview about the incident, Carroll said: “I got up and the stadium was very quiet afterwards. I thought it was in, but the referee and assistant never gave it. I looked at the linesman to see if it had gone over the line but it was one of those where you just carry on, as the other players did.”

A moment of brilliance from Mendes was turned into a moment of madness, courtesy Mark Clattenburg and Rob Lewis.


8. Nani’s mysterious goal against Tottenham

With Manchester United leading 1-0 in the second half against Spurs, Nani got tripped inside the box by Spurs defender Younes Kaboul.

The Portuguese winger stopped play and picked up the ball, since he thought it was a penalty. However referee Mark Clattenburg never blew his whistle to give the penalty. Everyone on the pitch naturally assumed that if there was no penalty, Tottenham now had a free kick.

Gomes placed the ball down to take the free kick, but again, no whistle had ever been blown. With Gomes lining up to take the kick, Nani simply ran over and kicked the ball into the net giving United a 2-0 lead. Clattenburg completely ignored the fact that Nani stopped and grabbed the ball with his hand and denied Spurs a free kick for the obvious hand-ball. The goal stood, and Manchester United fans celebrated in disbelief.


7. Referee misses German handball on the line

Germany vs. USA, 2002 World Cup

In the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup, USA locked horns with Germany with the chance to advance to the semi-finals.

The United States started the match brightly, but fell behind when Michael Ballack scored in the 39th minute. Trailing 1-0, the US pressed hard looking for an equalizer in the second half.

It looked like the United States would finally find their breakthrough in the 50th minute. On a corner kick, US defender Gregg Berhalter slid in to redirect the ball on goal. His shot was initially saved by German keeper Oliver Kahn, but he could not get all of it and the ball spun backward towards the goal where it was stopped by the outstretched hand of German defender Torsten Frings.

Despite this being as clear as night and day, United States were denied a goal or a penalty and a possible red card for Frings. The decision not to award the US a penalty seemed to take all the energy out of the US team, who barely threatened after that, and crashed out of the tournament with a 1-0 loss.


6. Brazil’s Rivaldo takes a terrible Dive, gets Turkish player sent off

It doesn’t get much worse than this. When Brazil were awarded a corner late in a 2002 World Cup match against Turkey, Hakan Unsal gently kicked the ball towards Brazil’s Rivaldo so he could put the ball back in play.

The ball hit Rivaldo on the thigh and the Brazilian went down clutching his face in agonizing pain. Despite the fact that the linesman was right there and could have told the referee that Rivaldo was making the most of it, he remained silent, and instead watched on as the referee red carded Unsal.

FIFA later fined Rivaldo nearly £5,000 for his method-acting heroics but justice wasn’t served. Ironically, Brazil beat Turkey 1-0 in the semi-finals to progress to the finals and eventually win it.


5. Maurice Edu’s disallowed goal for USA

2010 World Cup

The United States were behind 2-0 at half-time against Slovenia, but pulled a goal back when Landon Donovan scored shortly after the break. With about 20 minutes left to play, Michael Bradley scored a brilliant equalizer to level the game at 2-2.

The Americans were still in the hunt for a potential match winner. Donovan crossed the ball into the box from a set-piece, where midfielder Maurice Edu ran onto it and put it into the net, giving the US a late 3-2 lead.

The goal never counted, however, as Malian referee Koman Coulibaly blew the play dead for an unknown reason.

The commentators on ESPN initially called it an offside, but after watching the replay both commentators agreed that was not the case, as everyone was onside and the flag stayed down.

Coulibaly never gave the reason for why he blew the whistle, and FIFA said that the media could not talk to him but the reason would be given in his post match report. The only problem was Coulibaly left the entire incident out of his report, leaving the world still perplexed as to why the whistle was blown.


4. Thierry Henry’s handball sends France to the World Cup

France and the Republic of Ireland were playing a playoff for the final World Cup spot from Europe. Ireland had not been to the World Cup since 2002. Meanwhile France had made it to the final of the 2006 World Cup, and had won it in 1999.

The two nations were even at one goal apiece, with the match heading for extra time, giving Ireland the hope of stealing a World Cup berth.

But then, on a French attack the ball went down by the goal line of the opposition box.

Thierry Henry handled the ball to put himself in position to send it across the goal for William Gallas to smash in a controversial winner. The Irish players immediately ran to the referee complaining for a massive cause but to no avail.

The play was so obvious that Henry even admitted afterwards that the goal was unfair and that it was a handball. France would go on to play in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, while Ireland were forced to watch from home wondering what if.


3. Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’

Diego Maradona scored both goals for Argentina in its 2-1 quarterfinal win over England at the 1986 World Cup. For the second goal, he dribbled past six English players before scoring the goal voted ‘the goal of the century’. The first goal however, never should have happened.

With the ball up in the air, both Maradona and the English goalkeeper raced to the ball. Maradona won the battle and the ball ended up in the back of the net. The only problem was that Maradona had punched the ball into the net with his hand, and not his head.

Somehow, despite Maradona’s hand being raised and deliberately using his hand to punch the ball into the goal, no card was given and the goal stood. Argentina would go on to eliminate England, and would go on to win the 1986 World Cup.


2. Graham Poll’s three yellow cards

Croatia v Australia, 2006 

The only English referee at the 2006 World Cup was Graham Poll, a man chosen by the FA as the finest official in the Premier league. Unfortunately his World Cup ended after Australia’s final group match against Croatia, when the pressure appeared to get to him as he awarded Croatia’s Josip Simunic three yellow cards before remembering to send the player off.

Poll’s assistants Phil Sharp, Glenn Turner and fourth official Kevin Stott were questioned too. But Poll took all the charges on himself saying “I was the referee, it was my error and the buck stops with me.”


1. Geoff Hurst’s ‘goal’,

England v West Germany, World Cup 1966

The most famous was-it-over-the-goal-line-or-not of all time came in the 1966 World Cup final when Geoff Hurst’s shot hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced down.

Referee Gottfried Dienst was unsure whether it had crossed the line but assistant Tofik Bahramov gave the goal to The Three Lions as England led 3-2 and went on to win 4-2.

Last year, Sir Geoff Hurst said the move to add goal line technology had not come a moment too soon. “If we had this system (goal line technology) 50 years ago, it would have shown quite clearly the ball was at least a foot over the line.

TV replays don’t seem to back up that theory, however. Yet a definitive answer will never be established. Germany would get their retribution for this moment of agony 44 years later when Frank Lampard was famously denied a clear goal at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.


  1. Cody (#2) April 8, 2014
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  3. Chris in Dallas April 8, 2014
    • Clampdown April 8, 2014
  4. Anand Sindhu April 8, 2014
    • Cody (#2) April 8, 2014
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  5. goatslookshifty April 8, 2014
  6. goatslookshifty April 8, 2014
    • Anand Sindhu April 8, 2014
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  7. Daniel April 8, 2014
  8. John May 19, 2016
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