By Benjamin Grounds
Raheem Sterling’s unsavoury scuffle with Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia marred a productive evening against Ecuador in which Ross Barkley shot to prominence as a serious wildcard in England manager Roy Hodgson’s armoury of attacking options.
Under the Miami heat, with shirts clinging to bodies, Sterling’s ill-timed lunged sparked a furious reaction from Valencia, the standard bearer of the South American’s Word Cup hopes who perhaps is still smarting from a leg break sustained four years ago this September.
The World Cup has long been the breeding ground of infamous dismissals that have shaped and sealed the fate of many a nation’s hope of glory. Zinedine Zidane’s entrance into the World Cup hall of fame was guaranteed from the moment his head met ball twice from corners to sink Brazil in the 1998 final – but exited infamously when red mist, and Italy’s Marco Materazzi, descended eight years later courtesy of that same beret-hanger.
It wasn’t the first time either that ‘Zizou’ had been given his marching orders at football’s main event; stamping a Saudi Arabian in a 1998 group match temporarily left France without their talisman en route to the final. Only Rigobert Song (94, 98) has equalled the former Real Madrid and Juventus playmaker’s tally of two World Cup reds, but with temperatures expecting to stifle free-flowing attacking football this summer in South America, the heat may to be too much for a few others.
5. Mario Balotelli
The ticking time-bomb of Milan, Balotelli has been linked with a move back to England prior to a ball in Brazil being kicked, which will crank up the thermostat measuring the striker’s desire to impress.
Remembered affectionately in the UK for letting off fireworks from his bathroom window, ‘Crazy Mario’ was sent off for his country in a friendly against Czech Republic last year for two bookings in as many minutes, and has endured several strained relationships with managers in his short career draped in disciplinary problems.
Guiseppe Rossi’s omission from the final 23-man squad will mean the burden of a country’s hopes will fall on Balotelli’s 23-year-old shoulders.
4 – Nigel de Jong
Another from the Rossoneri camp, de Jong’s combative approach has earned him the nickname ‘the terrier’.
A career that has seen only one red card to date – for two bookable offences against Rapid Bucharest in Hamburg’s 2005/06 UEFA Cup campaign, betrays his penchant for dishing out the rough stuff.
The 29-year-old makes the list purely for the Kung-Fu kick on Xabi Alonso in the 2010 final that referee Howard Webb remarkably believed only merited a booking.
3 – Sergio Ramos
Spain may have felt they were on the receiving end of some industrious tactics by the Dutch in the final showdown in Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium four years ago, but Vicente del Bosque’s side have a hit-man of their own.
Sergio Ramos has a history of violence for his club side Real Madrid, having accrued 19 red cards during his time at the Bernabeu.
Remarkably, despite over 100 caps for La Roja, Ramos is yet to receive his marching orders, but in a World Cup where the reigning World and European champions have drifting favouritism, he may well be forced to deploy dirtier tactics.
2 – Pepe
Ramos’ Real Madrid counterpart, Pepe, is equally effusive in the tackle and will forever be remembered for his 10-match suspension after he lost his cool against Getafe in 2009.
The Portuguese defender, having conceded a penalty, aimed two swipes at the prone Javi Casquero, and his bad boy image reared itself once more in the home defeat to Barcelona this year, when he and Cesc Fabregas resembled rutting stags. His short temper, saddled with the burden of a group of death that pits the Portuguese alongside Ghana, USA and Germany means whatever happens, controversy is likely to tail the 31-year-old in Brazil.
1- Wayne Rooney
England’s great white hope has previously seen his World Cup go up in smoke, having been sent-off in 2006 for a stamp on Riccardo Carvalho.
Rooney, who missed the group stages of Euro 2012 following a hack at Montenegro’s Miodrag Dzudovic in qualifying, attacked the British public after a drab goalless draw against Algeria in South Africa, and enters this year’s tournament out of form and short on fitness.
Paul Scholes has questioned whether if he is passed his best, and if England toil, Rooney may well implode again.
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