7 Most Controversial Goals in Soccer History

Thierry Henry's Handball vs. Ireland most controversial goals in soccer history
Thierry HENRY / But de William GALLAS – 18.11.2009 – France / Eire – Barrage retour – Qualifications Coupe du Monde 2010 – Stade de France – Saint Denis, Photo : Dave Winter / Icon Sport

Soccer is arguably more than just a sport. It’s a global phenomenon. It touches cultures, economies and even the betting industry.

The “beautiful game,” in all its rich and varied history, also contains some of the biggest controversies of all time. Friends and families have been brought together and divided by debates about the sport. 

Fans from around the world not only passionately support their favorite teams but also engage in predicting match outcomes, with many turning to the best Premier League betting sites for guidance.

The unpredictable nature of the game, highlighted by contentious moments that span from the World Cup to the English Champions League, adds another layer of intrigue.

There are plenty of questionable goals on record, arising from either human error or faulty decision-making, which have led to heated discussions or even impacted betting odds. 

1. Diego Maradona’s “hand of god” vs. England

Diego Maradona Hand of god goal vs. England Most Controversial goals in soccer history Sport, Football, 1986 Football World Cup, Mexico, Quarter Final, Argentina 2 v England 1, 22nd June, 1986, Argentina's Diego Maradona scores 1st goal with his Hand of God, past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton
(Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)

It’s impossible to discuss controversial goals without mentioning Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal.

In a polemic World Cup quarter-final between Argentina and England, Maradona—still considered one of the world’s best players—used his hand to tip the ball into the net. The referee allowed the goal to stand. 

Maradona himself essentially acknowledged that he scored with the help of his hand, stating that the goal was achieved “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.

The “hand of god” goal was particularly controversial given the backdrop of the Falklands War, which placed Argentina and England as rivals not only on the field but also on the world stage. The Argentina-England soccer rivalry still stands. 

Diego Maradona still went on to score one of the greatest goals in soccer history in that match.

2. Thierry Henry’s handball vs. Ireland

Thierry Henry's Handball vs. Ireland most controversial goals in soccer history
Thierry HENRY / But de William GALLAS – 18.11.2009 – France / Eire – Barrage retour – Qualifications Coupe du Monde 2010 – Stade de France – Saint Denis, Photo : Dave Winter / Icon Sport

French striker Thierry Henry was involved in a contentious moment during a qualifying game for the World Cup against Ireland.

As the game moved into overtime, Henry quite obviously used his hand to control the ball before assisting William Gallas for a crucial goal.

The referee missed the handball, and the goal sent France to the World Cup in South Africa, while Ireland didn’t qualify.

After the match, Henry admitted his handball, which sparked debate about sportsmanship and fairness in the game—especially at the highest levels. 

3. Geoff Hurst’s over-the-line goal vs. Germany

Geoff Hurst vs. Germany (1966) top Hattricks in football history
30th July 1966: Geoff Hurst scores England’s third goal against West Germany in the World Cup final at Wembley Stadium. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

With the score tied 2-2 in overtime, the World Cup final between England and West Germany saw England’s Geoff Hurst take a shot that hit the crossbar and bounce down…but it wasn’t clear if the ball was over the line.

The referee consulted his linesman, who judged it a goal. The debate over the legitimacy of this goal still rages on, with fans using modern technology to argue both sides of the story.

Geoff Hurst was said to have score of the the best hattricks in soccer history after the win, but the legitimacy of that goal is still a mystery.

4. Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal vs. Germany 

Another goal-line controversy popped up in a more recent World Cup game featuring England and Germany, who are tense rivals to begin with.

Frank Lampard’s shot hit the bar and evidently bounced over the line, but this time, the goal didn’t get awarded.

Not only did it alter the dynamics of that particular game, but it also exemplified the limitations of human judgment in the face of high-speed action.

The incident greatly fueled the push for goal-line technology, which FIFA introduced a few years later. 

5. The “Phantom Goal” of Leverkusen vs. Hoffenheim

Moving away from the World Cup to the Bundesliga, in a match between Bayer Leverkusen and Hoffenheim, Leverkusen’s Stefan Kießling took a shot that looked like it was going in.

Instead, it went wide, and somehow squeezed through a hole in the side netting.

The referee mistakenly declared a goal. This error, with several other similar incidents tied to questions about whether the ball has crossed the goal line, prompted the industrywide move to adopt video technology in soccer.

6. Another “ghost goal” – Liverpool vs Chelsea

In the Champions League semi-final between Premier League teams Liverpool and Chelsea, Liverpool’s Luis Garcia took a shot that led to another “phantom goal.”

The referee was convinced it was over the line, but replays remained inconclusive.

Chelsea was furious, of course, but the decision was irreversible. On that day, the atmosphere in Anfield was electric; every move was critical.

That goal pushed Liverpool to the final in Istanbul, where they made an iconic comeback. 

7. Gerry Taggart’s “Disallowed Goal” vs. Everton

A controversial goal was disallowed during a match between Everton and Bolton in 1997, when Bolton’s Gerry Taggart headed the ball against the bar and over the line but the referee ruled it wasn’t a goal.

Bolton who were playing at home were unjustly robbed of a victory by referee Stephen Lodge who was unable to spot that Gerry Taggart’s looping header had dropped six inches behind the goal line before it was cleared by defender Terry Phelan.

The referee’s decision would prove costly later on.

The match eventually ended as a goalless draw, and the teams finished level on 40 points at the end of the season.

However, Bolton were relegated from the Premier League and Everton survived the drop.


The Debate About Technology and Verification

These controversial moments have often led to heated debates and serious reflections on the meaning of fair play and the role of technology in sports.

After Lampard’s disallowed goal, FIFA implemented goal-line technology (GLT) to provide clear evidence if a ball has crossed the line. 

The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system was introduced as an alternative to GLT as a cheaper way to review decisions made by the head referee. The use of video footage may help reduce the number of errors, but in itself is hotly debated.

Those against VAR argue that it disrupts the game’s flow and removes some of the magic of the “beautiful game.” But then again, how many more “hand of God” goals will make it into the annals of soccer history?

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