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The 10 Most Famous Handballs in Football History

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Handball offenses have destroyed the hopes of many football teams.

Handball offenses have destroyed the hopes of many football teams.

From Diego Maradona's Hand of God to Thierry Henry's offense that decided a World Cup playoff, illegally handling the ball in a football (soccer) match has allowed many players to cheat their way to victory. When a handball incident goes unnoticed by the officials and decides the outcome of an important match, it can destroy the dreams of millions of passionate fans.

Although handball rules have changed over time, they typically state that any deliberate or unnatural contact between the ball and the arm of an outfield player is an offense that warrants a free-kick or penalty being given to the opposing team. Exceptions are granted for when a player is protecting their body, or the ball is struck at an arm that is in a natural position by the player's side.

While there are referees in place to spot handballs, the infraction is not always observed, although the recent introduction of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) is likely to eliminate the most controversial future cases.

Below are ten of the most famous handballs in football history. Some are bizarre, while others are sickening. Indeed, sometimes the desire to win trumps any disposition for sportsmanship, plaguing "the beautiful game" with headline-stealing controversy.

10. Paul Scholes (against Zenit St. Petersburg)

It was the eve of the 2008 European Super Cup, and Paul Scholes was playing for Manchester United against Zenit St. Petersburg. The Russian team had surprised the European Champions and was leading 2-1 with only a few minutes remaining.

When a cross came into the penalty area, this plucky flame-haired United midfielder couldn't stand it any longer. Scholes leapt into the air and swung his arm at the ball, diverting it into the goal. When you can't win at football, play volleyball, right? Wrong. The referee saw it and sent him off to the rapturous laughter of many spectators.

9. Ronaldo (against Manchester City)

On one of the biggest European stages - a Champions League semi final against Manchester City - Ronaldo decided to give millions of spectators a good laugh. With his team winning 1-0, Ronaldo leapt into the air to meet a cross, only to realize that it was too high for him. So, he grabbed the ball and flung it into the net. Much like Scholes, the incident was more comical than serious. By the letter of the law, such infractions should be punished, but it is believed that Ronaldo was not carded because he was already offside.

8. Luis Fabiano (against Ivory Coast)

Brazil striker, Luis Fabiano, hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. He handled the ball twice on his way to scoring against the Ivory Coast in their group-stage game. The goal counted, although Brazil won the match 3-1, meaning it was not as controversial as it could have been. After the tournament, Fabiano never scored for Brazil again.

7. Luis Suarez (against Ghana)

A list of cheats wouldn't be complete without an entry for Luis Suarez. Whether for diving, biting, or verbal abuse, Suarez is the complete player.

In the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup, his team (Uruguay) had drawn with the popular Ghana team and the match had gone to extra time. In the dying seconds, Suarez decided to become a temporary goalkeeper. He parried a header off the goal line, saving his team from certain defeat and conceding a penalty. Although it was clearly spotted by the officials, Ghana missed the penalty and went on to lose the match in a penalty shoot-out, much to the dismay of nearly everyone watching.

6. Joe Jordan (against Wales)

The year was 1977, and the setting was a match between Scotland and Wales in the qualifying campaign for the 1978 World Cup. With the score at 0-0, a long-throw appeared to strike an arm in the penalty area. What made this handball so famous was the mistaken identity of the culprit.

Joe Jordan was a Scottish striker, and despite his arm making contact with the ball, the penalty was given to his team by the referee. The official appeared to mistake a Scottish arm for a Welsh one, and the controversial result saw Scotland qualify for the 1978 World Cup.

5. Raul (against Leeds United)

In a 2001 Champions League match between Raul's Real Madrid and Leeds United, the Madrid striker surreptitiously diverted the ball into the goal with his hand. The officials didn't see the infraction and the goal stood.

Real Madrid went on to win the game 3-2, although both sides still qualified for the quarter-finals. The incident is notable for the punishment Raul received. He was fined £8,000 by UEFA and banned for one match for his `unsporting behavior.'

4. Abel Xavier (against France)

It was the semi-finals of Euro 2000, and Abel Xavier's Portugal had battled France to a 1-1 draw. The match entered extra time under the golden goal rule (where one goal wins all) but both teams were struggling to break the deadlock.

With three minutes to go, Abel Xavier stepped up to provide a solution. He decided to block Sylvain Wiltord's shot with his hand. At first, it looked like a routine block but, after further inspection, the officials gave France the penalty for a clear handball offense. Zidane scored, giving France a dramatic win.

3. Lionel Messi (against Espanyol)

Argentine superstar, Lionel Messi, has emulated more than Diego Maradona's sublime skill. In a 2007 La Liga match, Messi's Barcelona were trailing 1-0 to city rivals, Espanyol, so the desperate Messi flung himself at a cross and punched the ball into the goal. The goal miraculously stood as none of the officials appeared to see the transgression.

2. Thierry Henry (against Ireland)

A place in the 2010 World Cup was at stake when France met Ireland in a qualification playoff. The underwhelming French team had been held to a 1-1 aggregate draw, triggering a rare period of extra time.

With the Irish defending desperately, Malouda sent a free-kick into the penalty area. The indefatigable Henry controlled the ball with his arm before using his hand to push it into a crossing position. His subsequent cross met the head of William Gallas, who ended Ireland's hopes of a World Cup place.

Henry's wonderful career was tainted by the episode, and he claimed to have received death threats as a result.

1. Diego Maradona (against England)

Diego Maradona has undoubtedly scored the most famous handball goal of all time. The incident was so memorable that it was dubbed The Hand of God after the player used the phrase in a post-match interview.

The stage was the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals between Maradona's Argentina and a promising England team. With the score at 0-0, Maradona made an intricate run through the midfield, although his subsequent pass wasn't controlled by Jorge Valdano. England's Steve Hodge had an opportunity to clear, but he mis-hit the ball, allowing Maradona to challenge England's goalkeeper (Peter Shilton) for the ball. With Shilton having an 8-inch height advantage, Maradona's only chance to score was to use his arm. The Tunisian referee failed to spot the little Argentinian punch the ball into the goal, resulting in a 2-1 victory for the South American side.

History's Handball Cheats

The notoriety of Maradona's "hand of god" has lived on, with both Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero replicating it (the latter against Recreativo; an incident not notable enough for this list). Both players probably grew up idolizing Maradona, and one has to wonder if his example influenced their later transgressions. Conversely, one could also say that the infamy of Maradona's handball led to greater interest when Messi and Aguero replicated it.

The history of the beautiful game is littered with similar episodes, although the most famous handballs are those involving notorious players in important matches. With the introduction of VAR (video assistant referees) in many leagues and tournaments around the world, the era of game-changing handballs is hopefully nearing an end.

Read More About Footballing Cheats

© 2013 Thomas Swan


mio cid from Uruguay on July 08, 2016:

Suarez the king of cheats? That shows ignorance and is the kind of thing I would say when commenting about rugby or cricket or whatever is played in New Zealand.

Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on September 03, 2013:

Thanks Elias. Yea the hand of god was such a famous one, there's no comparison really.

Elias Zanetti from Athens, Greece on September 03, 2013:

Interesting list and read, Thomas. I think that Diego's is the most important cheat ever and one that will be always remembered by soccer fans :)