Top 10 Famous Soccer Handballs

Updated on April 9, 2020
Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan has been an avid fan of the English Premier League and European football for more than 20 years.

Handball offenses have destroyed the hopes of many football teams.
Handball offenses have destroyed the hopes of many football teams. | Source

From Diego Maradona's Hand of God to Theirry Henry's World Cup playoff decider, handling the ball in a football (soccer) game has allowed many famous footballers to cheat their way to victory. When a handball incident decides the outcome of an important match, it can destroy the dreams of millions of passionate fans.

The handball rule states 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.

Below are 10 of the most famous handballs in football history. Some are bizarre, while others are sickening. Indeed, sometimes the desire to win trumps any disposition towards sportsmanship, plaguing the beautiful game with headline-stealing controversy.

10. Paul Scholes Vs. Zenit

It was the eve of the 2008 European Super Cup, and Paul Scholes was playing for Manchester United against Zenit St. Petersburg. The Russian outfit had surprised the European Champions and was leading Scholes' team 2-1 with only a few minutes left on the clock. When a cross came into the penalty area, the plucky flame-haired United midfielder couldn't stand it any longer. He leaped 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. Sergio Aguero Vs. Recreativo

Here is an early clip of Sergio Aguero plying his trade for Atletico Madrid against Recreativo in the Spanish La Liga in 2006. It was a hard clip to find, but one that should be of interest to Premier League fans. Aguero is no angel, and one has to wonder whether the Argentinian international attended the Diego Maradona school of foul play. Indeed, the Manchester City player married Maradona's daughter in 2009.

8. Luis Fabiano Vs. Ivory Coast

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

7. Luis Suarez Vs. Ghana

A list of cheats wouldn't be complete without an entry for Luis Suarez. Whether it's for diving, biting, or verbal abuse, Suarez is the complete player. Here he is against Ghana in the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup. His team, Uruguay, was level with the well-supported African team, and the match had gone to extra time. In the dying seconds, Suarez decided to become a temporary goalkeeper. The 'king of the cheaters' parried a header off the goal line, saving his team and conceding a penalty. Much to the dismay of nearly everyone watching, Ghana missed the penalty and went on to lose the match on a penalty shoot-out.

6. Joe Jordan Vs. 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 Vs. Leeds

In a 2001 Champions League match between Raul's Real Madrid side and Leeds United, the Madrid striker endeavored to divert 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, though 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 Vs. 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 with 3 minutes to go, neither team had broken the deadlock. Then, up stepped Abel Xavier 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 a penalty. Zidane scored, giving France a dramatic win.

3. Lionel Messi Vs. Espanyol

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

2. Theirry Henry Vs. 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 team 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 Vs. 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 crafted an intricate run through the midfield, though his pass wasn't controlled by Jorge Valdano. England's Steve Hodge had an opportunity to clear, but he mishit 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 fist the ball into the goal, resulting in a 2-1 victory for the South American side.

History's Handball Cheats

It's quite remarkable that three out of the ten handball cheats on this list are Argentinian. Both Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero have emulated Diego Maradona's Hand of God in their respective ways. It's likely that both players grew up idolizing the legend of Maradona, and one has to wonder if his example influenced their later transgressions. Conversely, one could say that the fame of the earlier incident led to greater interest when Messi and Aguero replicated it.

The history of the beautiful game is littered with similar episodes, though the most famous handballs are those involving notorious players in important matches. Unless the footballing authorities employ a challenge-based system where managers or captains have a limited capacity to ask for video confirmation, these incidents will continue to go unnoticed by match officials.

© 2013 Thomas Swan


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    • mio cid profile image

      mio cid 

      4 years ago from Uruguay

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      Thomas Swan 

      6 years ago from New Zealand

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

    • Elias Zanetti profile image

      Elias Zanetti 

      6 years ago from Athens, Greece

      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 :)


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