The sport of soccer, or football, is of course all about using your feet (and sometimes your head). Countless exciting, jaw-dropping, and memorable moments have occurred with the ball at a player’s feet. But sometimes, something unforgettable happens when a player’s hand gets involved in the action. We’ll take a look back at some of the most famous (or infamous?) handballs to have ever taken place in soccer.
A disappearing occurrence
But before that, we have to note that we have to view these events in the context of their time. In today’s game, the handball remains a point of controversy. We now have VAR video review, so committing a handball and getting away with it is much less likely. Each call, even under slow-motion scrutiny, is still hotly debated. Arm positioning, player intent, game situation – all of these are points of focus as these offenses can still have massive outcomes on games.
But instances that have become famous over the years likely would be nothing more than historical footnotes, if remembered at all, if today’s refereeing technology was available at the time.
Nonetheless, a few big moments have had a hand (get it?) in shaping the history of soccer.
Top 3 famous handballs in soccer
3. Suárez soirée
The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa was the first time the tournament had ever been hosted on the continent. While the hosts did not advance from the group stage, Ghana carried the hopes of a continent on their backs as they moved into the knockout rounds. After defeating the USA in extra time in the round of 16, they moved on to face Uruguay. They became just the third African team to make it that far in a World Cup.
After a tough 90 minutes and a 1-1 scoreline, the match headed into extra time. In the final moments before heading to penalty kicks, Ghana had an open look on goal. Seconds after a legal goal-line clearance, Uruguay’s Luis Suárez did his best goalkeeper impression and made a two-handed save to block a sure goal for Ghana.
He was shown a red card for his efforts and a spot kick was given to Ghana. Stunningly, Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan hit the crossbar on the ensuing PK, saving Uruguay from defeat. La Celeste would go on to win the game 4-2 in a shootout, denying Ghana becoming the first African team to make a semifinal.
While Suárez was justly punished in the game, in the end, he still got away with his desperate maneuver as Uruguay miraculously advanced. Some small justice was done as he of course missed the next game, which Uruguay would lose to the Netherlands.
2. Henry the Handyman
Was that French basketball star Tony Parker with a quick crossover? Not quite.
One of the more controversial moments in recent history came not long before Luis Suárez’s moment in the spotlight above.
In the final stages of qualification for the 2010 World Cup, France and Ireland were battling for one of the final spots in the tournament. A two-legged playoff in November 2009 began with France winning 1-0 at Croke Park in Dublin. In the second leg at the Stade de France, Robbie Keane’s 33rd-minute goal put things level on aggregate, which forced extra time.
Late in the first half of extra time, France’s William Gallas scored to put France up 2-1, under furious protest from Ireland’s defenders. It was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but on replays, Thierry Henry very clearly handled the ball, keeping it in play, before passing it to Gallas for the goal.
But the score was allowed to stand. The game finished 1-1, and as a result, France went on to the World Cup via a 2-1 aggregate score. Ireland were denied, and have not qualified since.
It was little solace to the Irish, but karma did come back to bite the French. France had a disastrous performance in South Africa, finishing bottom of their group with just one point. Disputes within the locker room had players sent home, and that then led to training boycotts. And it all ended with FFF president Jean-Pierre Escalettes resigning after the tournament.
One has to wonder what might have happened instead if the referees had seen Henry’s offense.
1. The Hand of God
There’s little argument about which is the most famous of handballs ever committed.
To set the stage, this was a huge match. The quarterfinals of the 1986 World Cup at the iconic Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Two of the biggest national teams in the world, Argentina and England – both former champions of the tournament.
The game was deadlocked at 0-0 after 45 minutes, setting up one of the most memorable, and infamous, second halves ever.
Just six minutes into the second half, a botched clearance from England saw the legendary Diego Maradona breaking in with a 1-v-1 challenge for the ball with English keeper Peter Shilton.
The shorter Maradona lept up and knocked the ball past Shilton and into the net. The thing about it was, however, that he hit the ball with his fist. England were furious, but the referee did not see any infraction and allowed the goal.
Only a few minutes later, Maradona struck again. This time, however, it was a completely legal – but no less unbelievable – play. The magical #10 received the ball in his own half, then proceeded to run 60 yards, beating six England defenders and the keeper, to score what became known as the “Goal of the Century“.
But it’s that first goal that stings the most for English fans and players. Its legendary status was helped by Maradona’s cheeky post-game remarks. Diego quipped that the goal was scored “a little with the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God.” This also gave the infamous moment its catchy name.
Even with modern technology and VAR lending a hand, these sorts of offenses will remain a factor in the game. But it’s unlikely we’ll ever see any moments as dubious as these again.
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