A picture is worth a thousand words and this is even more true in world football. Of all the millions of photographs of the world’s most beautiful game, that had been clicked, some managed to capture moments that are truly unforgettable and heartbreaking.
So here’s a list of 16 powerful images of blood, sweat and tears of the footballers that captured the spirit of the game.
1. The spit that mattered. Frank Rijkaard spits at Rudi Voller.
When Holland faced Germany it was always ‘problematic’, never more so than the fiery 1990 World Cup when two rivals clashed. The photo sees Rudi Voller walking away from the Dutch hardman Frank Rijkaard who aims his saliva towards the striker’s curly hair.
2. The Scorpion King with the Scorpion Kick.
Colombian keeper Rene Higuita produced this moment of breath-taking audacity destined to be imitated in school playgrounds, parks, and replayed on YouTube, for years to come. He is still a household name – known forever as the man who invented football’s ‘Scorpion Kick’.
3. Paolo Di Canio’s and his fascist salute.
Insanity and fascism are two of Di Canio’s personal traits. After the Rome (Roma—Lazio) derby in January 2005, Lazio player Paolo Di Canio gave a straight-arm fascist salute, i.e. the stretched arm used by fascists around the world to Lazio supporters.
4. Ryan Giggs shows off his chest hair
One of Ryan Giggs’s greatest moment remains that goal against Arsenal in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay. The welsh winger could not hide his excitement and removed his shirt to reveal his hairy chest, an image which is still fresh in the minds of all his fans.
5. 10 heroic lions, 1 stupid boy: David Beckham sent off against Argentina in 1998 WC.
In the second round contest between old rivals England and Argentina, the pin-up boy unnecessarily kicked out at Diego Simeone to earn himself a straight red. England lost an infamous penalty shootout when David Batty saw his poor penalty saved by the Argentine keeper. If Beckham was available, Batty may have never taken that penalty.
6. From zero to hero: David Beckham sends England to the World Cup.
It remains the most memorable international goal and marked a defining moment in his England career as he put the ignominy of 1998 behind him. England needed only a point to secure automatic qualification but were trailing 2-1 in the dying seconds. But Beckham stepped up to curl home a stunning free kick at Old Trafford and seal a place for the Three Lions at the 2002 World Cup.
7. Gazza plays the flute.
In 1998, Paul Gascoigne pretended to play the flute in front of the traditionally Catholic Celtic supporters, after scoring for their rivals, Rangers. The flute symbolises a Protestant victory over the Catholics in the seventeenth century, which infuriated the Celtic’s catholic fans. The former England star was fined £20,000 and was subjected to repeated death threats for several months after the incident.
8. Marc-Vivien Foe’s death: One of the greatest tragedies seen on a football pitch.
The Cameroon midfielder was playing for his country at against Colombia in the Confederations Cup semi-finals when he collapsed in the center circle after 72 minutes. His autopsy concluded that Foe died from natural causes and his death was caused by a heart condition. A national hero who died at the service of his country.
9. A pig’s head thrown at Luis Figo in Camp Nou because he is a ‘traitor’
Barcelona fans were pretty pissed with Luis Figo after he transferred to Real Madrid. But the fans hadn’t forgotten and felt betrayed by their former favourite player. Barcelona fans threw various objects on the pitch, but when the Portuguese strolled out to whip in a corner, a pig’s head was launched in his direction from the stands.
10. Roberto Baggio: A glittering career defined by a single penalty miss.
The most talked about penalty miss in the history of football. Baggio is one of the greatest Italian players of all time, but sadly he is remembered for all the wrong reasons. Baggio scored goals at the 1990 and 1998 finals, too, but inspiring Italy to within a shoot-out of being world champions is the legacy he deserves to be remembered for, not the man who missed the decisive spot kick in the final.
11. Andres Iniesta dedicates WC to ex-Espanyol captain Dani Jarque
Iniesta’s goal four minutes from the end of extra-time proved to be the decisive shot as Spain beat Holland 1-0. But he immediately raced to the touchline and removed his jersey to reveal an undershirt with the words “Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros” (Dani Jarque always with us) in honour of the former Espanyol captain who suffered a heart attack while he was telephoning his pregnant girlfriend.
12. The Zinedine Zidane headbutt on Marco Materazzi
July 9, 2006: Italy beats France to win 2006 final in Berlin. But, Zinedine Zidane had the opportunity of captaining his country to their second World Cup, 8 years after inspiring France to glory on home soil. The mercurial midfielder was sent off after he headbutted Materazzi, as a result, and Italy went on to win the 2006 final following a penalty shootout. As Zidane walked off the pitch and past the famous trophy, it would be the last time the world would see one of the greatest footballers of his generation in what was the worst send off possible.
13. Andre Escobar’s ‘deadly’ own goal
Has an own goal ever been so costly? Aside from leading to his country’s exit from the 1994 World Cup, Escobar’s error also cost him his life, with the Colombian defender getting shot on his return to South America.
14. Best sports photo ever?
A tenacious tie between Milan rivals, AC and Inter, was abandoned after flares and missiles rained down on the pitch. Inter, who were losing 3-0 on aggregate, had a goal disallowed, causing ferocious protests from the stands. Opposing players Marco Materazzi and Manuel Rui Costa wait for the game to continue in what is one of the most powerful images in football history.
15. Robbie Flower snorting ‘cocaine’ on the pitch.
In 1999, amidst rumours in the press that Robbie Fowler was involved with drugs, he decided to respond to those stories on the pitch. The Liverpool striker celebrated a goal in the Merseyside derby with a hugely controversial celebration, using the white paint of the goal line to imitate snorting cocaine as a way of responding to the Everton fans, who had been jibing him throughout the game.
16. ‘A little with the head of Maradona and a little with the Hand of God.’
The most iconic photograph in the history of football is Diego Maradona’s infamous “Hand of God” goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final. The Argentine maestro openly used his hand to beat Peter Shilton and win the game 2-1, before eventually lifting the trophy itself.
Undoubtedly, football is the best and biggest sport in the world.