1982: When Kuwait brought chaos to the World Cup

Words by Matthew Crist Illustration by Philippe Fenner
July 6, 2018

Kuwait’s relationship with the World Cup has been fleeting to say the least, with only one appearance to date in the competition. Nevertheless, their legacy at the tournament will forever be ensured thanks to a bizarre incident against France in their second group game in 1982 which guaranteed they made the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

For the tiny nation of Kuwait to even reach the biggest festival of football on the planet was an achievement in itself having only played their first international game in 1961. It was something they would fail to replicate in subsequent years, yet their name is still synonymous with the competition.

Something of a golden period for Kuwaiti football had begun by lifting the Asian Cup in 1980, after beating South Korea in the final of the tournament they had been chosen to host. The win acting as a springboard going into qualification for the World Cup two years later.

After a somewhat long and drawn out process they eventually topped a group which also contained New Zealand, China and Saudi Arabia to confirm their place in Spain the following summer, becoming instant heroes in a country without any sort of footballing pedigree.

Having been drawn with England, France and Czechoslovakia for the finals, Kuwait appeared to be the whipping boys in a group of international heavyweights; though a creditable draw with Czechoslovakia in their opening game raised more than a few eyebrows and suggested they weren’t happy to simply make up the numbers as they prepared to take on the much fancied French.

France had been beaten 3-1 by England in their opening game, yet were still a formidable outfit thanks to a midfield containing the likes of Michel Platini and Alain Giresse which would be instrumental in them winning the European Championship title two years later.

After a resilient first half-hour from Kuwait on a blisteringly hot day in Valladolid, the French eventually found a way to breach their defence when Bernard Genghini fired home a free kick from the edge of the box, before Platini surged through to prod home number two just before halftime as the floodgates threatened to open.

France continued where they had left off after the break and made it 3-0 in the 48th minute; a sublime piece of control and fine finish from Didier Six all but put the game beyond doubt.

Kuwait did manage to salvage some pride when Abdullah Al-Buloushi scored with 15 minutes of the game remaining, though the strike appeared to be more of a consolation than the beginning of an epic comeback  – especially when France looked to have restored their three goal margin as they grabbed a fourth just moments later.

After passing the ball neatly through the midfield, Platini put Giresse clean through only for an apparent blast of the referee’s whistle to halt the Kuwait defence in their tracks as the Frenchman continued his run and fired the ball past the keeper for what everyone thought was the fourth goal.

However, chaos ensued when the referee, former Ukranian goalkeeper Miroslav Stupar, allowed the goal to stand, claiming that he hadn’t blown his whistle and the clearly audible noise must have come from somebody in the crowd; but as the French lined up waiting for the re-start, the Kuwait players were having none of it.

It was at this stage that the television cameras, which for much of the game had been cutting to the animated behaviour of Sheikh Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the prince of Kuwait and also the President of the nation’s football association, immediately panned in his direction once more.

As the protests on the field continued, he could clearly be seen standing-up and waving his arms around in a motion which would suggest that he was demanding that his players come towards the touchline, but that was just the beginning of an incredible 10 minutes. Angered by the perceived injustice, Prince Fahad, by now overcome with rage, made his way down the steps, through a line of bewildered policemen and onto the pitch to argue his case with the referee and anyone else who would listen; seemingly telling his players not to restart the game and leave the field all together, threatening a major diplomatic incident like never before seen at the World Cup.

Fahad later denied that he was telling his players to leave the field and despite his hand waving gestures to the players explained to the world’s press after the match: ”I told the players to stay on the field. That was the movement I was making with my hand.”

Incredibly, in the absence of any guidance from FIFA, Stupar succumbed to Fahad’s demands and reversed his initial decision deciding to rule out the goal and instructed the two sides to restart the game with a drop-ball somewhere near where Giresse had received the pass from Platini before slotting the ball home.

Whether the French would have been so understanding had the game been more finely balance is anyone’s guess but to their credit they accepted the decision and, before Fahad had retaken his seat back in the director’s box, made it 4-1 for real. Maxime Bossis virtually walked the ball into the Kuwaiti goal to avoid any more confusion.

The actions of Sheikh Fahad wouldn’t just make him a household name, it would also lead him to being fined the paltry sum of £8000, while referee Miroslav Stupar would never officiate another game again after his part in the events.

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The defeat was followed by another loss, this time a more credible 1-0 defeat to England which confirmed Kuwait’s elimination from their one and only visit to the World Cup to which they have never returned since.

Even so, the mere mention of their name will undoubtedly conjure up images of the remarkable afternoon on June 21 1982 when a perfectly good goal was overruled due to the actions of their players and their over-exuberant president; an act which still casts a dark shadow over their footballing achievements to this day.

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