My favourite match: Portugal 1-0 Netherlands

Third in our 'My favourite match' series sees Carlos Santos - Toronto FC fanatic and founder of the TFC Blog - eulogise over the 2006 World Cup, round of 16 match between Portugal and the Netherlands.

For me, this game was one of the more memorable from the 2006 World Cup. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect.  My niece’s birthday party brought together two sides of the family, fittingly Portuguese and Dutch. With a barbecue going strong and a bottomless cooler of beer, we all sat down to watch together.

One of the big stories prior to kick off was the dropping of Ruud Van Nistelrooy.  A decision Van Basten would come to regret.

Portugal started the game with a four-four-three formation, penalty kick maestro Ricardo, in goal. Ricardo Carvalho, Fernando Meira made up the center-back partnership, with Miguel and Nuno Valente as full backs. In Midfield, Costinha, Maniche and Deco, with Figo, Ronaldo and Pauleta in front.

Similarly, it looked like the Netherlands were to play in a four-four-three shape, with Van Der Sar in goal. Boulharouz, Mathijsen, Van Bronckhorst and Ooijer in defence, Cocu, Sneijder and Van Bommel in midfield. Robben, Van Perise and Kuyt up front.

A methodical start by both teams, seemed to cancel one another out. However, soon enough the tone was set as Van Bommel went in studs up against Cristiano Ronaldo’s thigh.  The injury sustained rendering him infective for the little time he spent on the field. This proved to be the first incident to raise the temperature as Ivanov, the Russian referee, chose to keep his card in his pocket.  

Eventually the game began to open up, Arjen Robben, the flying Dutchmen, continued to be stonewalled in the final third by Miguel’s fantastic defensive work, aided by the covering Carvalho. The intense Nuremberg heat taking its toll on both sets of players, some visibly dripping with sweat inside the opening exchanges. “POR-TU-GAL” ringing from the crowd as they urged the game on. Moments later, a rush of blood earned Maniche a booking for a vengeful tackle on Van Bommel, the original foul was by Boulahrouz, but anyone would do.  

As the camera panned to a great sea of Orange in the stands, Van Basten could be seen standing calm and cerebral in front of his dugout. Big Phil screaming with arms waving in signals toward his players.  I once read that big Phil provided each of his Brazil squad with a copy of ‘The Art of War’ in order to prepare mentally.  He’d clearly read it too.

Then on the 23rd minute, it happened, a piece of pure beauty and skill that would forever seal the memory of Maniche amongst fans worldwide.  Deco on the right provided a laser pass to Pauleta who with back to goal, quickly layed the ball to the on rushing Maniche, who after side stepping his defenders fired a ferocious effort past Van Der Sar. The stadium erupted as Maniche ran towards the fans, screaming and thumping his chest.  The Portugal fans were in ecstasy, pure nirvana.  This was not the first time Maniche had scored against the Netherlands and the announcer echoed “the Netherlands must be heartily sick of Maniche”. They were.

After the restart the Portuguese fans provided a symphony of song once again, driving the team forward to attack.  The Netherlands were temporarily deflated.  Both teams unwilling to give an inch, the tackles started flying and the yellow cards handed out.  Ronaldo unable to continue as a result of Van Bommel’s earlier challenge was subbed for Simao.  Fighting back the tears, he wondered if his World Cup was over.

Soon after, Van Persie began to show his skill, turning defenders into pretzels and crossing into the box with no-one to connect. At the third time, he must have been wondering what Van Nistelrooy was doing on the bench. He’d have hammered one home.

As the counter attacking football began to flow, with surging runs up field from both sides, discipline began to lapse. Some of the decisions by the referee seemed to be pure madness, Nuno Valente flew in to Arjen Robben, slamming his studs against his chest in the box. Goal Kick. Moments later the referee produced a second yellow card for Portuguese midfielder Costinha, heading into halftime with only ten men.

Now a man down big Phil started the second half by pulling off Pauleta and bringing in Petit, exchanging the forward for some midfield solidarity.  The Orange came out attacking and very nearly scored when Cocu blasted the ball from point blank range against the bar. As it bounced off the line and out, he couldn’t believe his luck. Once again, Ruud would have scored.

The Netherlands soon began focusing their play through the middle of the park, no doubt due to the half time talk from Van Basten, and it was starting to see some success as several opportunities arose. Rafael Van Der Vaart was introduced on the fifty-sixth minute, replacing Mathijsen, increasing the pressure on the Portuguese defence. However, playing with a man less, Portugal almost capitalised on more than one occasion, playing effectively on the counter attack.

Then on the fifty-eighth minutes, an altercation between Luis Figo and Van Bommel, saw the Real Madrid legend throw a head-butt, only to receive a yellow card.  Soon after Boulahrouz unwisely attempted some revenge, receiving his second bookable. The Orange swam the referee to no avail.  Both teams now playing with ten men, Van  Basten pulled off Van Bommel and introduced Heitinga, a midfielder for a defender.

Both teams continued to attack on the counter, fans chanting, fouls continued. In the seventy- third minute, tempers flared once again as Deco grabbed the ball to prevent a quick restart. Another yellow card saw the third sending off and Portugal down to nine men. As the Portuguese fans booed Ivanov, Big Phil seemed to be losing his marbles.

Moments later it looked like Kuyt would equalise, finding himself wide open in front of goal. Disappointingly he fired straight at Ricardo and the attack died out.  Where was Ruud?

Further substitutions saw the introduction of Tiago and Vennegoor of Hesselink replacing Figo and Cocu respectively. Chances shortly followed at both ends of the field, only for referee Ivanov to incredibly add six minutes of stoppage time. As the one man advantage encouraged Holland to press for the equalizer, any such hope was cut short as Giovanni Van Bronckhorst leveled the deficit with another booking. Nine men each, with two minutes to play.

As the final seconds of the game played out, players sent off for both teams could be seen sitting in the stands alongside one another in disbelief, in all sixteen bookings were given, a World Cup record. As the final whistle blew on one of the most dramatic games I have ever seen, Portugal progressed through to the next round where they would meet England once again.

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