From Pepe to Neymar and Diego Costa, this World Cup has been rife with tactical fouling, crowding of referees and some appalling interpretations of the term ‘defending’. It seemed only right then that we rewarded these notorious underhand tactics with a look at some of the most disagreeable sides in the tournament.
Taken into account is both the number of cards the team has picked up, as well as their general approach to play in the games so far. I’d say there have been five genuinely dirty teams at this World Cup, meaning the first two get in by virtue of just being the worst of the rest.
Here’s our 7 dirtiest teams at the 2018 World Cup
This summer’s host nation of Russia have already sprung a surprise or two at the 2018 World Cup, and I’m recording this video before their quarter-final tie with Croatia, so they could even have sprung another by the time this video goes out. Understandably, the Russians know they can’t go toe-to-toe with the best teams at the finals, so they have had to make themselves tough to beat. Russian right-back Igor Smolnikov is one of only a handful of players to have been sent off at the tournament, having received two blatant yellows in Russia’s group stage defeat to Uruguay.
The Mexicans are an experienced bunch – the most experienced in terms of caps at the finals in fact – and they used that experience to good effect to navigate their way out of the group stages. After victories against Germany and South Korea in their opening two matches, Mexico were being talked about as potential dark horses, but they ended up going out at the same stage they always do – the round of 16. In their defence, they were playing the favourites Brazil, and the Brazilian press have been quick to accuse Mexico of employing dirty tactics to try and disrupt their flair players. Mexico picked up nine yellow cards at the tournament, which is the joint fourth most of any nation.
5. South Korea
South Korean football used to be associated with players being neat & tidy in possession and hard working throughout, not the type of niggliness, naughtiness and nastiness more commonly associated with Latin American nations like Uruguay and Argentina. However, we saw a beautiful exhibit of anti-football from the South Koreans at times in Russia. Their disruption tactics saw them pick up ten yellow cards, the second most of any team in the group stages.
Well, we’ve come to expect it from them by now haven’t we ? Over the years, Argentinian defenders have picked up worse reputations than FIFA officials or Russian athletes when it comes to ethical codes of conduct and general fair play. Winning by any means possible has tended to be the mandate, and that hasn’t always made them well-loved. It was no different in Russia, except they didn’t do much winning. Argentina stumbled through to the Round of 16, but were well-beaten by France, despite the 4-3 final scoreline suggesting otherwise. With Otamendi kicking the ball at Ivan Rakitic’s head, Javier Mascherano’s five separate yellow card offences against France and the most yellow cards at the tournament, Argentina have to feature here.
The Swiss may have a reputation for peace and pacifism on the world stage, but they showed that they could do nasty as well as anyone in Russia. In their tournament opener, Switzerland committed a number of professional fouls and clearly tried to kick Neymar out of the game. They committed 19 fouls in that game, 10 of which were on Brazil’s star man, but it worked as they emerged with a 1-1 draw. Victory against Serbia ensured that the Swiss made the round of 16, where they were beaten 1-0 by Sweden. With one straight red and nine yellows, Switzerland have the joint worst disciplinary record at the tournament at the time of recording.
By far the dirtiest team in the World Cup group stages, the Panama manager Hernan Dario Gomez is even reported to have apologised to Gareth Southgate at half-time for his team’s nasty and niggly approach to their game against England. Panama were the minnows of this World Cup, and at least one of the two poorest teams at the tournament, so they obviously figured they needed to ruffle a few feathers to have any chance. It was a shame, since you’d like to be able to get behind the plucky minnows, but this Panama side were hard to take to. They picked up 11 yellow cards, the most of any team in the group stages.
Dirtiness in football can take many forms. There can be brutish tackles, niggly off the ball incidents, pushing and shoving, crowding out the referee and so much more. The Colombian side of 2018 has to take top spot since they exhibited almost every form of dirtiness known to man. The Colombians had the first player sent off at the World Cup, when Carlos Sanchez was dismissed only 3 minutes into their opening game. They still ended up topping their group, but it was in the Round of 16 against England that their dirtiness reached new heights.
They started fairly enough, but as England began to dominate the early exchanges, there seemed to be a change of tact from the Colombians. Getting in the England player’s heads looked to be the ploy, and they tried every tactic under the sun to do just that. Referee Geiger from the US showed an utter ineptitude to keep on top of the game, and should have carded every Colombian player who spent three or four minutes in his face after he awarded England a penalty.
During that time, the Colombian players had been digging their studs and ruffling up the penalty spot to make Harry Kane’s job as difficult as possible. Scumbaggery of such heights that it beggars belief. At half-time, one Colombian coach even pushed into Raheem Sterling as the youngster was leaving the pitch, an act so shameful it prompted Gary Neville into calling him a numpty. We haven’t even mentioned Barrios’ headbutt and how he managed to stay on the pitch, but Colombia certainly deserve to top this seven, and they are fortunate to be tied with Switzerland as having the worst disciplinary record at the World Cup.
In complete contrast to a number of their players, Colombia’s fans were absolutely fantastic. They travelled to Russia in enormous numbers and created a tremendous atmosphere throughout.