Ranked! The 10 most incredible World Cup howlers

Rob Green World Cup 2010
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5. Igor Akinfeev’s fumble (Russia vs South Korea, 2014)

Fabio Capello was then forced to watch another one of his net-minders make a calamitous error four years later. South Korean striker Lee Keun-ho’s long-range effort was hit slightly more powerfully than Clint Dempsey’s, but it still should have been a routine save for Russia’s Akinfeev.

Instead, the then-28-year-old comically palmed the ball over his head and into the net to put the Koreans in front. Aleksandr Kerzhakov managed to spare his blushes with an equaliser just minutes later, but Akinfeev’s World Cup nightmare continued in his Russia's final group game when he was temporarily blinded by a green laser seconds before Algeria scored from a free-kick.   

4. Jeff Agoos’ own goal (USA vs Portugal, 2002)

The World Cup was never particularly kind to Agoos. The USA defender deliberately burned his kit upon learning that he’d narrowly missed out on a place at the 1994 tournament. He did make it to France ’98, but then failed to make it onto the pitch. And when he finally got some action in 2002, he scored one of the most spectacular own goals in World Cup history.

Thankfully for Agoos, his volleying gift to Portugal wasn’t decisive – USA still won the match 3-2. But his rotten luck continued when he limped off with a calf injury in their next game against Poland and missed the rest of the United States’ journey to the quarter-finals.  

3. Yakubu’s sitter (Nigeria vs South Korea, 2010)

Yakubu is the second-highest African goalscorer in Premier League history, the third-highest in Nigerian international football and was once Everton’s record transfer signing. But he will be forever remembered for his nightmare miss at the 2010 World Cup.

The striker looked destined to give the Super Eagles a vital equaliser against South Korea when he was presented with an open goal just three yards out, and yet somehow he dragged the ball wide. Yakubu sort of made amends when he scored from the penalty spot just minutes later, but Nigeria failed to find the winner they needed and the regularly-fortuitous Koreans progressed to the second round at their expense. 

2. Rene Higuita’s showboating (Colombia vs Cameroon, 1990)

Renowned for that audacious, if essentially risk-free scorpion kick against England in 1995, flamboyant Colombian Rene Higuita first earned his El Loco (The Madman) nickname five years earlier. With their Italia ’90 second-round encounter against dark horses Cameroon evenly poised at 1-1 in extra time, the sweeper-keeper unwisely attempted to outmanoeuvre the in-form Roger Milla near the halfway line.

Inevitably, he was dispossessed by the 38-year-old cult hero, who then won the frantic race towards Colombia's goal and sent the South Americans home. Oh dear.

1. Graham Poll’s triple booking (Croatia vs Australia, 2006)

Poll was often accused by his detractors of making the game all about him. But surely even the most fame-hungry of officials wouldn’t have wished for the attention caused by his almighty World Cup faux pas in 2006.

Not realising that he'd already booked Croatia’s Josip Simunic, Poll failed to dismiss the defender when he issued him with a second yellow late in the game for chopping down an opponent. But his mistake was compounded just minutes later when he unwittingly gave the Croatian a third booking, and his belated marching orders, at the final whistle.

Poll later blamed the incident on an admin error caused by Simunic’s accent. The Croatia defender was brought up in Canberra so had a strong Australian accent, leading to Poll’s brain-freeze when he spoke to the player. He then wrote the name of Australia’s No.3 – Craig Moore – in his pad for a booking. Upon realising his error post-match, Poll asked to be sent home with the first batch of officials let go after the group stage. FIFA duly obliged and Poll retired from the international game shortly after.   

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