Stories

Ranked! The 10 most incredible World Cup howlers

Rob Green World Cup 2010

A pair of Italian strikers, one soul diva, a crazy Colombian and certain English referee all 'star' in our countdown of the biggest World Cup blunders

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?

10. Christian Vieri’s open goal miss (Italy vs South Korea, 2002)

The first of several shocking errors which greatly benefited South Korea, this glaring miss came from an Italian striker who had been on hot form. Christian Vieri had already scored against Croatia and twice against Ecuador before taking his 2002 tally to four in Italy’s second-round encounter against the co-hosts.

However, the hero became villain when he fired the ball both wide and high in front of a gaping goal just seconds after South Korea had netted a late equaliser. Italy later blamed referee Byron Moreno’s questionable decisions in extra time for their exit, but Vieri should have put fate in their own hands.  

SEE ALSO 2002: When dodgy decisions took South Korea to the semis – and infuriated Europe's big guns

9. Mwepu Ilunga’s free-kick interruption (Zaire vs Brazil, 1974)    

The jury’s still out about whether Ilunga’s infamous free-kick interruption was actually an embarrassing misunderstanding of the game’s basic rules or a deliberate protest against his homeland’s authorities, as he later claimed.

The Zaire international became something of a laughing stock at the 1974 World Cup when he raced out of a defensive wall and booted away Brazil’s free-kick before they’d even taken it. Ilunga was cautioned for his bizarre premature booting, then later claimed he was in fact aiming for a red card as a protest against his team’s lack of financial earnings (although his shrugging reaction to the referee slightly undermines his excuse).

8. Diana Ross’s penalty (opening ceremony, 1994)

OK, so it’s a slightly unfair target including Ross, as the soul legend never proclaimed to be a world-class footballer – and she’s undoubtedly still better at taking spot-kicks than most footballers are at singing Motown classics.

Yet the former Supreme’s missed penalty at USA '94 – which thanks to some Hollywood magic still managed to break the net in two – remains the most enjoyably ridiculous moment of any World Cup opening ceremony.   

7. Roberto Baggio’s spot-kick (Italy vs Brazil, 1994)

Unfortunately, the divine Miss Ross’s spot-kick abilities ended up looking relatively impressive when compared to those of the Divine Ponytail. In a poetic bit of bookending, the 1994 World Cup also concluded with a terrible penalty, only this time it was a footballing genius rather than a 50-year-old diva who was responsible.

Roberto Baggio’s decisive shootout effort – which gifted Brazil the trophy following a deathly dull 120 minutes of open play – was blazed so sky high over the bar that it’s still probably somewhere in the sky above California’s Rose Bowl. What's less remembered is that he was actually the third Italian to miss in that shootout, after Franco Baresi and Daniele Massaro.

ICONS Roberto Baggio – the miss that haunted a career (1994)

6. Rob Green’s spill (England vs USA, 2010)

Paul Robinson’s bobbling backpass blunder in Zagreb. David Seaman’s desperate back-peddling against Brazil. Scott Carson’s crucial fumble against Croatia. Since the turn of the century, England keepers have developed a reputation for humiliating themselves at the most ill-timed moments.

Poor Green added his name to that list at South Africa 2010 when he somehow spilled Clint Dempsey’s weak, 25-yard shot into his own net to gift the USA an equaliser. He was dropped after that error, but it was a sign of things to come during a hopelessly inept campaign which proved once and for all that the Golden Generation was nothing but a myth.