Portugal vs The Netherlands: A look back at the infamous Battle of Nuremberg
With Portugal set to take on The Netherlands competitively yet again, we take a look back at that infamous day back in 2006.
Battling it out in the Round of 16 of the FIFA World Cup, the match between Portugal and Netherlands was always going to be competitive, but the scenes that ultimately developed over the course of 90 minutes were ugly and unexpected.
The Portuguese call it the Battle of Nuremberg (Batalha de Nuremberga), the Dutch refer to it as the Massacre of Nuremberg (Slag van Neurenberg) - either perfectly apt for the events that unfolded.
It was Russian referee Valentin Ivanov who had perhaps the misfortune of officiating this one, and came under criticism from then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter for his handling of the game, suggesting that Ivanov himself deserved a booking for his poor display during the match.
It was, in truth, a bit of a mess. And here’s how it unfolded:
In the compact Frankenstadion, Portugal kicked off from left to right, and it didn’t take long for the first late lunging tackle to be seen as, after just 2 minutes, Mark van Bommel chopped at the legs of a youthful Cristiano Ronaldo, getting nowhere near the ball and instead opting to end the attack at its source.
You only had to wait a further 5 minutes to see the next reckless challenge, this time Dutch right back Boulahrouz going studs first into the very top of Ronaldo’s leg - in today’s game with VAR, he’d be lucky to escape without a red. Instead, only a yellow was awarded. 7 minutes played, 2 bookings already.
Maniche was the next to go into the book; not quite as cynical as the two challenges that came before it, but a standing challenge going through the back of Holland’s Cocu was always asking a question of the referee, and he didn’t hesitate to retrospectively book the Portuguese midfielder once the Dutch attack had ended.
Moments after receiving that yellow card though, Maniche grabbed the only goal of the game, dancing through the Dutch defence before smashing it past Van der Sar between the sticks in the 23rd minute. But that wasn’t the end of the story.
Portugal levelled the game up in terms of bookings 7 minutes after the ball hit the back of the net, a forceful sliding challenge from Costinha that was fully deserving of a yellow card.
That brought the end to the opening half an hour of the match which was, in hindsight, actually relatively uneventful, with far more violent scenes still to come, unbeknown to the onlooking fans…
Ronaldo had to come off injured in the 38th minute after another late challenge by Boulahrouz, although the Dutch right back escaped a second yellow, somewhat fortunately.
And that wasn’t the end of the first-half activity either, as Costinha yet again took centre stage, again going in late in midfield but avoiding a card.
The Netherlands could also consider themselves highly unfortunate not to get a penalty 5 minutes before the end of the half, with a ridiculous high challenge into the chest of Arjen Robben somehow evading the sight of the referee, meaning that Nuno Valente got away with a reckless high-flying foul that should have undoubtedly been punished with both a penalty and a red card.
And there was still more to come before the referee had even put the whistle to his lips to blow for half time; indeed, 15 minutes after his very first full-blooded challenge and in first half stoppage time, Costinha yet again got himself in trouble, inexplicably sticking out a hand to block a Dutch pass through midfield. That was his final contribution as Ivanov showed Costinha his second yellow of the game to give him his marching orders.
Portugal should have very probably been reduced to nine men by half time, and would have been relatively content to go into the break with just a one man disadvantage and, more crucially, with their lead intact.
And they should have received yet another red card on the hour mark when captain Luis Figo locked horns with Van Bommel, headbutting the Dutch midfielder but escaping with just a yellow card.
That happened shortly after Petit was shown a yellow card of his own for a clear pull-back on Van Bommel, while Van Bronchorst also received a booking just a minute before Figo’s buffoonery for a late lunging challenge on Deco just outside the Dutch box.
With Portugal still somehow retaining 10 men, it was The Netherlands that next went on to next lose a man of their own, when Boulahrouz elbowed Figo in the face while chasing the ball. A deserved second booking that initiated a brawl on the touchline and ultimately levelled the playing field in the 63rd minute of the game.
Deco then decided he didn’t want to be left out of the fun, and went into the referee’s book for a charging challenge. You could see by the way he suddenly sprinted towards Heitinga at the halfway line that he had absolutely no intention of getting the ball and was simply looking to take out the man, and rightfully received a booking for a powerful sliding tackle. In the aftermath of that challenge, Petit was then pushed to the ground after talking to the injured Heitinga, Sneijder the man responsible, given a yellow card of his own for his troubles. Van der Vaart too.
And we’re not done yet. Nuno Valente, who could consider himself very fortunate to even be on the pitch at that point in the game, then deservedly - and finally - received a caution, going through the back of his man at the halfway line to receive the yellow. Even goalkeeper Ricardo got involved, getting a booking for his complaints.
Deco then got himself in trouble yet again, although this time it wasn’t for any violence. Perhaps thankfully, Deco’s second yellow came for a far more petty reason, due to the Portuguese midfielder refusing to give the ball straight back to the Dutch players after the referee blew for a handball against the perpetrator. Perhaps a harsh booking considering all of the antics and challenges that had preceded it, but it ultimately left Portugal with just 9 men - and most would argue that that number should really have been 7!
With 12 minutes of the game remaining and the Dutch again with the man advantage, all eyes were on Portugal’s opponents to see if they could level the game with the man advantage. They couldn’t.
Instead, there was room for The Netherlands to get one more red card of their own; deep into stoppage time, an unnecessary challenge by van Bronckhorst on the edge of the box saw him depart a few minutes earlier than the rest of the players, making this match finish as a nine v nine scenario.
A breathless and memorable match - perhaps all for the wrong reasons.
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