Quite often at the FIFA World Cup, when two footballing superpowers are pitted against each other in the latter rounds, the game does not live up to expectations as teams cancel each other out tactically and a war of attrition ensues.
To say the Round of 16 game between Portugal and the Netherlands didn’t live up to expectations would be putting it mildly, as guerrilla warfare was deployed over war of attrition.
Neither nation necessarily set the tournament alight with their performances prior to this fixture, with Portugal narrowly defeating Angola, Iran and Mexico and the Netherlands struggling to wins over Serbia, Montenegro and Ivory Coast before a goalless draw with Argentina.
Despite the premonitions, many neutral supporters tuned in to a potential World Cup classic between two dark horses which saw household Portuguese names such as Deco, Figo and Ronaldo face Netherlands’ maestros such as Sneijder, Cocu and Van Persie.
Maniche scored the only goal of the game in the 23rd minute with a tidy finish to send Portugal through, but the game will forever be remembered as the Battle of Nuremburg due to the ill-tempered nature of the clash.
Russian referee Valentin Ivanov was kept busy from the get go, brandishing the game’s first yellow card in the second minute to Dutch midfielder Mark Van Bommel, which set the tone for the biggest grudge match since the act of rolling around after being tapped on the shoulder was introduced in the 2000s.
Another two yellow cards were given before the goal on the 23-minute mark, one of which saw Dutch defender Khalid Boulahrouz booked for a foul on Cristiano Ronaldo which ultimately ended the Seleccao star’s night, reducing him to tears.
Ivanov issued a FIFA World Cup record of four red and 16 yellow cards in total, with post-match analysis resembling a WWE Wrestlemania event rather than a World Cup last 16 game.
The red card count could have easily been five, as Luis Figo avoided being dismissed after a headbutt on Van Bommel on the hour mark. It is said that Figo personally prepared fellow Real Madrid legend for the final of the tournament.
An iconic photo captured Barcelona teammates Deco and Van Bronckhorst sitting side by side on the sideline after receiving their marching orders, looking bewildered as to what had just happened.
In the aftermath of events in Nuremburg, then FIFA presifent Sepp Blatter offered a scathing criticism of the referee’s performance in typical, controversial, Sepp Blatter fashion.
“I consider that the referee was not at the same level as the players. There could have been a yellow card for the referee,” Blatter said, before later retracting his comments.
Seeing a game of the same intensity and ill temper in Russia or future World Cups is highly doubtful, and there is no denying today’s Portuguese side wouldn’t have lasted until half time in 2006 considering Pepe’s recent antics against Morocco.