Nasty Nine – The World Cup’s most infamous villains

The Rio Report

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Dobromir Zhechev (Bulgaria)

July 12 1966 is a date Pele will remember without too much fondness. The Brazilian maestro might well have been on the scoresheet in a 2-0 win over Bulgaria at Goodison Park, but his body took a battering, largely thanks to the roughhouse tactics employed by Bulgarian enforcer Zhechev. The no-nonsense defender, who had, as Pelé puts it, "a tendency to mistake my legs for the ball", carried out a series of brutal, targeted assaults on the striker, who was subsequently forced to miss Brazil's second match through injury. Brazil failed to get out of the group stage - their worst performance at a World Cup - and Zhechev's violent work was done.

Antonio Rattin (Argentina)

Zhechev's antics were widely and rightly condoned in England at the time but even so, the title of public enemy number one during the summer of 1966 belonged solely to a certain Antonio Rattin. The Argentina captain ensured he wouldn't be invited for a post-match drink in the local pub after he suddenly received his marching orders after 35 minutes of an already-feisty quarter-final against the host nation at Wembley. What he was dismissed for exactly, nobody was really sure, although the German referee Rudolf Kreitlein later pointed to "violence of the tongue", meaning he was verbally abused by Rattin. Anyway, Rattin was aggrieved, incensed and agitated, lingering on the pitch to remonstrate with his team-mates before finally being escorted away. His popularity then took a terminal nosedive when he pinched a union flag pennant on his way off the pitch.

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Nobby Stiles (England)

Rattin said: "Both sides were giving as good as they got. We were not the size of Chinamen, we were big players, but England had some tough characters like Nobby Stiles." Indeed, England look after themselves quite adequately, none more so than Manchester United's Nobby Stiles. His principle role at the 1966 World Cup was to stop the opposition's best players from shining, using whatever means possible. Stiles may have been toothless - he removed his dentures before every game - but he was anything but in the tackle and his battling style of play marked him out as one the tournament's most fearsome and effective enforcers. His finest hour came in the semi-finals when he nullified the threat of Portugal's Eusebio and England went on to win the World Cup for the first and only time.

João Morais (Portugal)

Another entry from 1966 shows just how brutal that particular tournament was. No one understood that more than Pele, who having been singled out for rough treatment in Brazil's opener against Bulgaria, returned to action against Portugal after missing the second game through injury. The match was supposed to be a celebration of two of football's greatest talents in Pele and Eusebio, but the reality was that the Brazilian was butchered and bullied out of the game, most notably by the uncompromising João Morais. One particular double attack on Pele's knee effectively did for him; he hobbled through the rest of the game and Brazil went crashing out.

Harald Schumacher (West Germany)

Not since the Nazis' invasion in 1940 had anti-German feeling been so widespread in France, as one footballer's actions in the semi-final of the 1982 World Cup succeeded in inciting hatred on a huge scale. Harald Schumacher's outright assault - it cannot be called anything but - on Patrick Battiston was as shocking as it was vicious. Played through by Michel Platini, Battiston nudged the ball past Schumacher moments before he was pole-axed by the onrushing Germany keeper, who had little else in his mind than to make contact with the player, regardless of where the ball was. The collision was sickening and it left Battiston with missing teeth and damaged vertebrae. Schumacher turned his back on his stricken victim, nonchalantly chewing gum, while the referee restarted play without having punished the German or even given a free-kick.

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Claudio Gentile (Italy)

In Italian, 'gentile' means 'kind'. The footballer of the same name was nothing of the sort once he got on the pitch and the paradox is clear to see. Forged on the same anvil as the likes of Zhechev and Morais, Claudio Gentile's prowess lay in ruffling feathers, by whatever means. Nasty tackles, shirt-pulling, discreet taps to the ankles... there was nothing Gentile would not do to gain an advantage for his team. And his style of play worked wonders for Italy who, with their general on the battlefield, went all the way in 1982, Gentile having accounted for the likes of Diego Maradona, Zico and Karl Heinz Rummenigge along the way.

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Diego Simeone (Argentina)

Over the course of three World Cups, Argentina's Diego Simeone earned a reputation for being an uncompromising player, one who never shied away from a crunching tackle or from employing the dark arts of the game whenever and wherever necessary. Simeone's crowning glory as a player came in the 1998 World Cup quarter-final against England, when he piled into David Beckham for the umpteenth time that match, prompting the Manchester United midfielder to kick out with that impetuous, infamous flick of the heel. Simeone went down like a ton of bricks, belying his physical stature, but his job was done: Beckham was sent off and Argentina went on to win the game on penalties.

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Zinedine Zidane (France)

One of the greatest players of all time was also, as is so often the case, flawed. Zinedine Zidane has the dubious honour of being, along the Cameroon's Rigobert Song, the only player to have been sent off at two different World Cups. His first dismissal, for a stamp on Saudi Arabia's Fouad Amin in 1998, might have been forgiven had it been a one-off moment of madness, but we now know that that was not the case. Eight years later he signed off his international career in the most shocking, memorable fashion, headbutting Italy's Marco Materazzi in the chest and sparking a huge inquest to find out what exactly tipped him over the edge.

Marco Materazzi (Italy)

For his role in the incident only, Materazzi deserves his place in this rogue's gallery. The Italy defender may have been the victim of a violent assault on the night, but rest assured he played his part. His words, not actions, proved instrumental in the downfall of France in the 2006 final and his deliberate provocation of Zidane could not have turned out better for the Azzurri. But Materazzi is not just a sly whisperer of insults; he can mix it with the best of them physically too. His late tackle on Australia's Mark Bresciano in the quarter-finals that year was testament to that, and in any further evidence is needed, the Serie A back catalogues provide a compelling case against him.

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