Zidane headbutts Materazzi, Suarez bites Chiellini, Nani sees red: The most controversial thing I have seen

Over the years, our writers have been present for some of the game's greatest occasions. In the latest installment of a multi-part series, they tell the story of the most controversial moments they have seen in person. They include a pair of Luis Suarez incidents, but are dominated by a moment of infamy for Zinedine Zidane.

Julien Laurens, Gab Marcotti, Graham Hunter's pick: Zidane headbutts Materazzi

The match: Italy 1-1 France (2006)
The place: Berlin, Germany

Laurens: The World Cup final was level at 1-1 and approaching the midway point of the second period of extra time, seemingly set for a penalty shootout decider, when it happened. I, like almost everyone else, did not see the incident live, as my eyes had followed the ball toward an Italy counter-attack. But as soon as I looked back in the direction of the French captain, Zinedine Zidane, again, Marco Materazzi was lying on the floor, and I had a feeling that something was wrong. That something big had taken place.

Hunter: Like referee Horacio Elizondo and everyone else, I was following the ball, but when play stopped, Materazzi was on the ground, with Zidane over him. I swear that, wholly against protocol, the incident was replayed once on the Olympic stadium screens while Elizondo was debating what action to take.

Laurens: Not long after, TV screens in the press box showed the incident, to widespread shock. Until that point, no one had known exactly what had happened apart from Zidane, Materazzi and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Raymond Domenech and Marcello Lippi, respectively the France and Italy managers, had no idea. Referee Elizondo had not seen the incident. Almost every fan inside the Olympic Stadium was unaware, along with millions watching on TV.

Marcotti: It was not controversial because Zidane was sent off. He headbutted Materazzi, so a red card was the only answer. It was controversial because nobody except Buffon saw it happen live. Not Elizondo, and not fourth official Luis Medina Cantalejo, at least until the latter peeked at the pitchside monitor.

Laurens: In the immediate aftermath, a melee unfolded on the pitch, yet it felt like time almost stopped. At once, everything was unclear, and we knew that Zidane was going to get a red card.

Marcotti: [Cantalejo] realised that, even though he was not supposed to be looking at it, he could not unsee the replay. Not in a game like that; not in circumstances like that. And so Zidane's career ended with the first VAR decision. However unlicensed and unapproved, it was still the right call.

Hunter: Red card. Au revoir, Zizou. He set up the winning goal in the quarterfinals, netted the winner in the semifinal and opened the scoring in the final, before succumbing to provocation. Which of us, truthfully, can swear they might not have reacted the same way?

Laurens: It was hard to realise. One of the greatest players of all time was sent off in a World Cup final, which was also his last game as a professional. It was surreal to see him walk back to the dressing room on his own, past the trophy he won eight years earlier. As the legendary French TV commentator Thierry Gilardi said: "Oh Zinedine, not this, not this Zinedine, oh no, not today, not now, not after everything you have done..."

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Nicky Bandini's pick: Suarez bites Chiellini

The match: Italy 0-1 Uruguay (2014)
The place: Natal, Brazil

At the time, those of us in the Natal press box did not know what was going on. We saw Luis Suarez, Giorgio Chiellini and the the players come together and then the subsequent scuffle, but word of an alleged bite arrived via Twitter and texts from editors watching on TV. I remember afterward trying to square Uruguay's furious denials with the replays which, by that point, we had all seen. Remarkably, Uruguay actually won the game, but they went out in the next round without Suarez, who was banned for nine international games.

Jeff Carlisle's pick: Suarez denies Ghana

The match: Uruguay 1-1 Ghana (2010)
The place: Johannesburg, South Africa

With seconds left in extra time of a World Cup quarterfinal and the score level at 1-1, Luis Suarez saved Dominic Adiyiah's goal-bound header with his hand and was duly sent off. Ghana's Asamoah Gyan rattled the crossbar with the ensuing penalty, and Uruguay went on to win in a shootout. Suarez later boasted he had made the save of the tournament and had little concern about being cast -- not for the first nor last time -- in the role of villain.

Tom Williams' pick: Henry's handball

The match: France 1-1 Republic of Ireland (2009)
The place: Saint-Denis, France

I was among the home fans at Stade de France when Thierry Henry used his hand to tee up William Gallas for the goal that sent France to the 2010 World Cup at Republic of Ireland's expense in the playoffs. The officials missed it and, with no video replays, it was only from text messages and social media that we found out what Henry had done and why Ireland's players were beside themselves with anger.

Rob Dawson's pick: Nani sees red

The match: Manchester United 1-2 Real Madrid (2013)
The place: Manchester, England

In Sir Alex Ferguson's last Champions League campaign, United were going through to the last eight over Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid until referee Cuneyt Cakir sent off Nani for a high boot as he watched the ball come over his shoulder. Nani was unlucky to be booked, never mind get a red card, and it prompted a stunned silence inside Old Trafford. Real Madrid scored twice in three minutes soon afterward, and United went out.

Tim Vickery's pick: Near-tragedy in Brazil

The match: Vasco da Gama vs. Sao Caetano (2000)
The place: Rio de Janeiro

Vasco chose not to stage the Brazilian Championship final at the Maracana, but at their own, much smaller stadium nearby. It was clear that too many tickets had been sold and, early in the game, people were jammed tight but had nowhere to go; only by chance was no one killed, but approximately 150 were injured. As they lay on the touchline, a Vasco director wandered about calling -- in vain -- for them to be cleared away so the game could restart. Madness.

Tom Marshall's pick: Herrera lashes out

The match(es): 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup
The place: Philadelphia International Airport

The atmosphere between Mexico manager Miguel Herrera and the country's soccer media soured throughout the tournament, but after El Tri played well and defeated Jamaica 3-1 in the final, the manager answered every single question he was asked, and it seemed like everything had calmed down. The next day, though, everything kicked off at Philadelphia International Airport. After a physical altercation with a TV commentator, Herrera was sacked from his dream job.

Colin Udoh's pick: Matuidi's horror tackle

The match: France 2-0 Nigeria (2014)
The place: Brasilia, Brazil

Blaise Matuidi's studs-up challenge on Ogenyi Onazi resulted in a broken leg for the Nigeria midfielder, which sidelined him for several months. The France midfielder somehow only got a yellow card, rather than the red he deserved, and Les Bleus went on to win the World Cup round-of-16 clash. Onazi accepted Matuidi's apology on social media, but many Nigerians remain bitter.

Also nominated: Wayne Rooney sees red, 2006 (Tor-Kristian Karlsen), Paolo Di Canio shoves the referee, 1998 (Mark Ogden), Gary Crosby and Andy Dibble, 1990 (Nick Miller), Referee complaints, anytime! (Sid Lowe)