Brazil's history of helping hands
RIO DE JANEIRO -- Let's not sugarcoat it: the penalty awarded to Brazil in their opening game against Croatia firmly tipped momentum in their favor. Until that point, things hung firmly in the balance after a nervy first half in which Luka Modric and co had already rattled the Seleção by scoring first.
But Nico Kovac's team must simply join the ranks of sides aggrieved by such refereeing decisions. Brazil's World Cup history has seen several other controversial episodes that don't diminish the Seleção's impact on the game, but do suggest that referees sometimes think twice before punishing them.
1962: Santos' "naughty" steps infuriate Spain
After an easy victory over Mexico in the opening game of their 1958 title defense, the Seleção were held to a goalless draw by Czechoslovakia and then met Spain in Vina Del Mar for a winner-take-all showdown. La Roja drew first blood in the 35th minute and should have killed the match in the second half when legendary Brazilian left-back Nilton Santos brought down Enrique Collar in the box. A blatant penalty somehow morphed into a free kick: Santos quickly took two quick steps outside the box to con Chilean referee Sergio Bustamante.
To irk Spain even more, Ferenc Puskas (yes, the Hungarian great) scored a beautiful scissor-kick from the foul -- only for Bustamante to rule it out due to dangerous behavior. Brazil went on to win the game 2-1 and became the last side to win back-to-back World Cups.
1982: Russians hard done in Sevilla
The mythical 1982 Seleção suffered a hell of a blip in their opening game in that World Cup when goalkeeper Valdyr Perez fluffed an innocuous shot in the 34th minute. But history registers it as a peach of a comeback capped by Eder's 87th-minute sublime, intelligent lob that beat goalie Rinar Dasaev. Russia had reason to feel aggrieved; two strong penalty calls went unanswered by Spanish ref Augusto Castillo, including a clumsy handball by Brazilian center-back Luizinho in the first half.
1986: Spain are left fuming again
A hard-fought first-round tie between Brazil and Spain was intriguingly poised after a thunderous strike by Real Madrid's star midfielder Michel bounced off the bar well beyond the line. It should have meant that Spain were 1-0 up; unfortunately, the goal was never awarded by Australian referee Chris Bambridge and Spain once again were left sickened, especially after Socrates headed in a 62nd-minute winner for the Seleção.
2002: Wilmots' "ghost" foul
Twelve years later, Marc Wilmots' blood still boils when he recalls the events of June 17, 2002. After heading in what looked like a massive dent in Brazil's chances of lifting a fifth World Cup title, the Belgium star was horrified to see Jamaican referee Peter Prendergast rule it out for a foul that not even the Brazilian defenders seemed to be appealing for.
"I still don't understand what the referee saw in that incident. I am not saying we would definitely win the game, but our chances would certainly have improved had my perfectly good goal stood," says Wilmots. Brazil won their round-of-16 game 2-0 and went on to win the World Cup.
1938: "Le Fumble" in Marseille
Playing an extra game to decide who would proceed to the 1938 World Cup semifinals in France, Brazil and Czechoslovakia were tied 1-1 when Seleção goalie Walter fumbled a weak, low shot by Karel Senecky that crossed the line before being hastily retrieved. But Hungarian referee Pal von Hertzka didn't see it and Brazil hit a 62nd-minute winner to set a showdown with Italy in the last four -- which, ironically, they lost thanks to a controversial penalty awarded to Vittorio Pozzo's Azzurri.