Mike Gibbons

Mike Gibbons is an aspiring young journalist from the UK who has followed the World Cup with passion from an early age. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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What if....

    There is not a supporter of any country in World Cup history that does not have some deep-rooted angst at the thought of what could have been had a certain crucial factor gone in their favour instead of against them. It can be a criminal refereeing decision, blatant cheating or an outrageously lucky goal, and they rankle with fans the world over.

    Therefore, I am about to embark on an entirely pointless and hypothetical article, which will prove absolutely nothing. You are all welcome.

These are my top 5. Just imagine – what if…

5) …Beckham hadn’t kicked Simeone

The incident – Just seconds into the second half of the nail-biting England-Argentina match in France 98, Simeone clattered Beckham from behind, and from a prostrate position Beckham lashed out at his aggressor in full view of the referee, who promptly sent him off.

The outcome – England went down to ten men, Glen Hoddle made the insane decision to drop Michael Owen into midfield, the match was ground out to a stalemate and, inevitably, England lost on penalties.

What might have been – Although this incident has clearly had an ultimately positive influence on Beckham, England were at the time holding their own against one of the best teams in the competition. Michael Owen was crucifying the Argentinian defenders and looked certain to win us the match, and this is perhaps what is most irksome, because as the surprise package of the tournament Owen turned England from fringe contenders to genuine challengers. Beckham's’ petulance, in my eyes, cost England a place in the semi-finals, and took the best player out of the tournament. We will never know how much Owen could have added to his legend from the quarter-finals onwards.

4) …Puskas had been fit?

The incident – The great Ferenc Puskas led his team into the 1954 World Cup Final against West Germany carrying an injury.

The outcome – Although he scored early in the game to help Hungary to a 2-0 lead, the injury was taking it’s toll and Puskas’ influence decreased as the match went on. Without the galloping major in full flight the Germans began their habit of comebacks against all the odds and turned the game around to win 3-2.

What might have been – Quite simply, if he was fully fit for that game the Hungary of the 1950’s would be regarded as the greatest football team ever to lace up boots. They had already destroyed the Germans 8-3 at the group stage, and were also unbeaten for over 30 games, so the final looked a simple task. With a fully fit Puskas, it would have been. They gambled on carrying him through the match, and have paid the price in history.

3) …Hurst’s goal had been disallowed?

The incident – In extra-time in the 1966 final, Geoff Hurst cracked a shot against the under-side of the German crossbar, the ball bounced down directly on the line and back out into play. After consulting with the linesman Bahkramov , the referee Dienst awarded a goal to England to put them 3-2 up.

The outcome – Germany pushed more men forward, England broke away in the last minute and scored the clincher to win 4-2. Until the end of time the Germans will say it didn’t cross the line and the English will say it did.

What might have been – England would still have won. Come on, what did you expect me to say? Constant whining about the ball not crossing the line often hides the fact that England were the dominant team in extra time. We hit the post and had numerous other chances, while the Germans were dead on their feet. Even Franz Beckenbauer, a man who if you looked up arrogance in the dictionary it would have his picture next to it, said England did enough to win, and that’s good enough for us. I do think the Germans gained a modicum of revenge by knocking us out of Mexico 70, the 1972 European Championships, Italia 90 and Euro 96!

2) …the referee/linesman/god/anyone had seen Maradona’s handball?

The incident – In the 1986 quarter final in Mexico, Maradona left a trail of English defenders behind him, raced onto an appalling back pass from Steve Hodge, jumped for the ball with Shilton and touched the ball over him with his fist, and it duly rolled into the net.

The outcome – The goal stood, the English were (and some still are) furious, and five minutes later Maradona finished an already one-sided game with the greatest goal ever seen.

What might have been – Biased, one-eyed England fans will tell you that if the referee had disallowed the goal Maradona never would have had all that space to score his wonder goal, and that Lineker would have scored a late winner. Rubbish. Argentina were the better team by a mile, Maradona was unstoppable that day, despite the efforts of many English defenders to remove his legs from his body. Yes, it was a blatant handball and should have been disallowed, but referees do miss things (like shots coming down from the bar and not crossing the line), and all you can do is swallow it, however painful and however unjust it may seem. In any case, Maradona’s second was worthy of winning any game.

1) …Schumacher had been sent off?

The incident – The 1982 World Cup semi-final between France and West Germany was locked at 1-1. Michel Platini split the German defence with a peach of a pass to Battiston, running onto the ball as the goalkeeper Schumacher came out to close him down. Battiston got there first and poked his shot narrowly wide. As he shot, Schumacher floored him with a flying, mid-air hip check.

The outcome – The referee awarded a goal kick. Battiston lost his consciousness, a fair percentage of his teeth and ultimately the ability to blink in unison and was stretchered off. France did go 3-1 ahead in extra-time but Rummenigge inspired the Germans to pull level and they ultimately won on penalties.

What might have been – For probably the most ruthless foul in World Cup history (although I personally hold a torch for Cameroon’s three man tag-team effort on Claudio Caniggia at Italia 90), Schumacher simply had to be sent off. It wasn’t even debatable, and at the very least should have been a free-kick, yet France received nothing. It also served to further tarnish the Germans image, coming on the back of their contrived result with Austria that forced Algeria out in the first round. With ten men against one of the best front sixes of all time, even Germany would have crumbled, Rummenigge or not. France would earn justice by thrashing them in extra-time, and then go on to beat the Italians in the final, jumping the gun by 16 years to win the trophy they invented.

    So there we have it, a little glimpse into a parallel universe, where referees spot every handball and offside and all players abide by the laws of the game. I’m glad to be back in the real world.



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