The battle of Nuremberg: How Portugal & Netherlands picked up 16 cards & set the tone for a very modern grudge match

Both sides last met at the 2006 World Cup in a match that will forever be remembered for all the wrong reasons as the referee handed out a record-breaking 16 cards
 Stefan Coerts
 Netherlands Expert Follow on

After losing their opening two Group B games against Denmark and Germany respectively, Netherlands face a tough task to qualify for the quarter-finals at Euro 2012. Not only are they reliant on the result of the match between the Germans and the Danes, but they also need to beat Portugal by two goals in Kharkiv.

Although the two sides have met only 10 times to date, with Oranje recording their one and only win in 1991, the Dutch have developed a rather heated rivalry with the Seleccao over the years, eventually culminating in ‘The battle of Nuremberg’ at the 2006 World Cup.

Netherlands had qualified for the round of 16 after beating Serbia and Montenegro and Cote d’Ivoire in the group stages, while drawing against Argentina, and were seen as one of the outsiders to win the tournament.

Portugal, meanwhile, had shrugged off Angola, Iran and Mexico to book their ticket for the first round of the knock-out stages, and were one of the favourites to go all the way having been losing finalists at Euro 2004.

Oranje and the Seleccao had last met in the semi-finals of the European Championship two years before, when Portugal proved to be too strong for the Dutch, and Netherlands were determined to avenge that defeat at the World Cup in Germany.

Dutch train ahead of final clash
To underline Dutch intentions, the inevitable Mark van Bommel set the tone early on as he was booked in the second minute for a foul on Cristiano Ronaldo. Hardly five minutes later, the then Manchester United man was again on the receiving end of a reckless tackle. Inspired by the James Brown song ‘It's a Man's Man's Man's World’, Khalid Boulahrouz hit the attacker on his thigh with his studs up, and was lucky to escape a red card.

Portugal, too, were not afraid to stick their feet in as referee Valentin Ivanov struggled to keep things under control. Maniche was the first Portuguese to go into the book in the 20th minute, yet the midfielder’s biggest contribution came shortly after when he netted the only goal of the game after a superb team move.

This was to be one of the few beautiful moments of the game, though, as the round of 16 match was marred by cynical fouls and violent incidents. Costinha was the first to receive his marching orders in the dying seconds of the first half after being booked for the second time within 15 minutes.

Nevertheless, things wouldn’t end there as Ivanov was in for a heated second half. Luis Figo escaped a dismissal at the hour mark after head-butting Van Bommel, but Boulahrouz was less fortunate shortly after when he was shown his second yellow card of the game.

Still, the end of a disgraceful display was not in sight just yet as Barcelona’s Deco was next in line to leave the pitch involuntarily. The influential midfielder was first booked following a dangerous tackle on John Heitinga after the Dutch refused to return the ball to the Portuguese after an injury treatment. Five minutes later, the playmaker was involved in an incident on the touchline, and was consequently dismissed.

Dirk Kuyt then missed a gilt-edged chance to level the scoring as he failed to beat the Portugal goalkeeper from the edge of the area, allowing Ivanov to take centre-stage once more. The Russian referee would not pass up on this opportunity as Giovanni van Bronckhorst became the fourth player to receive his marching orders after a contentious foul well into stoppage-time, taking the card-total to the astonishing number of 16.

After the final whistle, Barcelona team-mates Deco and Van Bronckhorst were spotted brotherly sitting next to each other on the sidelines, wondering what had just happened in Nuremberg.

Netherlands and Portugal haven’t met each other since that shameful encounter six years ago - but it has not been forgotten.

Although a repeat seems unlikely on Sunday, Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli would therefore be wise to stay very close to proceedings in Kharkiv to ensure that the two sides don’t lose their tempers again.