2006 World Cup: The Battle of Nuremberg

More cards than at Christmas
The FIFA World Cup is football's biggest event and continuously displays football of the highest quality and matches to remember. In previous blogs we've acknowledged the power the tournament has to reforge friendships between nations and the amazing underdog story of the Miracle of Bern in 1954. However, during the 2006 World Cup, staged in Germany, the most unbelievable and insane match I have ever witnessed took place. The ideas of fair-play and fairy-tale stories seemed a distant memory as Holland took on Portugal in a first knockout round clash.

Prior to the knockout rounds of the 2006 World Cup, the tournament was proving to be somewhat of a footballing success. Unlike the defensive and timid nature of the last World Cup in South Africa, the German tournament provided a more attacking a diverse group stage. Of course there was the odd goalless draw and scrappy 1-0, but the opening match between Germany and Costa Rica set the pace after a breathless 4-2 win for the Germans.

THAT goal from Frings
The Netherlands' route through the group stages was a difficult one on paper. They were drawn in one of two "Groups of Death" alongside Argentina, Ivory Coast and Serbia and Montenegro. It was however a comfortable progression for the Dutch to the last 16. An Arjen Robben goal saw them past Serbia and the 2-1 victory over the Ivory Coast was to be remembered by an unstoppable Robin Van Persie free-kick. It was fast flowing football reminiscent of the "Total Football" days of the 1970s. A 0-0 draw against the already through Argentina completed an impressive group stage for Holland and what of their next opponents?

Portugal were given a kinder draw, with Mexico their only real challenger. Minnows Angola and Iran completed the group. Portugal would go on to secure victory in all three matches. Pauleta scoring against Angola in a 1-0 triumph before a sublime Deco finish and a 21-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo penalty were the scourge of a poor Iran side. Finally The 3-1 win over Mexico showed the Portuguese "Golden Generation meant business. With players like Luis Figo, Deco and Maniche in their side, a title challenge could be on its way.

Nuremberg - The stage was set for the Dutch and Portuguese, two great footballing nations. The crowd expected goals and beautiful football, what it received was anything but. The night before had seen Argentina and Mexico battle out a thrilling, end-to-end match, resulting in a 2-1 win for the Argentines and a quite breath-taking goal from former Liverpool man Maxi Rodriguez. However, it took just 2 minutes on the clock in Nuremberg for the tone to be set. An awful tackle on danger man Ronaldo highlighted how he dutch would approach the game, somewhat similar to the tactics deployed four years on in Soccer City.

A similar problem for the Dutch 4 years later
The first culprit? Who else but Mark Van Bommel. The early booking had shown how referee Valentin Ivanov would approach the game. Within minutes of Van Bommel's challenge, Khalid Boulahrouz forcefully challenged Ronaldo resulting in the then Manchester United man leaving the field. Portugal were no angels either, bookings to Maniche and Costinha meant both defensive linchpins were treading a fine line. The former on the other hand scoring the games only goal after 19 minutes. The first red card would fall to Costinha for a deliberate handball just before half time.

"It was an extremely difficult game. We were good in the first half. After we started playing with nine men it was a lot of work."
Luis Figo

H/T CARD COUNT: HOL - 2 yellows POR - 3 yellows 1 red

The second half continued where the first left off, with cynical fouls and bookings for first Petit and then Van Bronckhorst. The latter prompted a fracas between players of both sides. The legendary Luis Figo even headbutting Van Bommel who's reaction was in some ways comical. How Figo stayed on the pitch is a mystery escaping with only a yellow, before himself going down easy after being caught by Boulahrouz's elbow. Another melee and another red card, this time for the Dutch right-back.
Tempers flare
The actual game itself was being dominated by the Netherlands, only for their momentum to be continuously stopped by the trigger-happy Russian ref. Portuguese and Dutch frustrations got the better of them as after Cocu refused to kick the ball back to Portugal, a nasty lunge from Deco on Heitinga resulted in more handbags and four yellow cards. Wesley Sneijder even forcefully shoving Petit to the ground. Holland would continue to battle in order to force extra time only for more stoppages and cards. Deco the next to receive his marching orders after holding onto the ball too long.

"It was an open and very spectacular game but we could not score a goal."
Marco Van Basten

Portugal would finish in 4th place
The final ten minutes supplied more pressure from Holland but no real goal-scoring chances. A regular theme in the 2006 knockout rounds. Gio Van Bronkhorst finally seeing red in the 96th minute for a second yellow. After the final whistle, the viewing public were left stunned after watching a petulant, embarrassing and yet gripping 90 minutes of football. Most post match was centered around referee Ivanov's performance. Sepp Blatter saying, "I consider that today the referee was not at the same level as the participants, the players. There could have been a yellow card for the referee,''

F/T CARD COUNT - HOL 7 yellows 2 red  - POR - 9 yellows 2 red

The game was recently ranked as the World Cup's "39th Most Shocking Moment" by the BBC for their countdown before the 2010 World Cup. The 2006 World Cup would go on to witness the ugly scenes in Berlin when the German and Argentine teams clashed following a tense penalty shootout. The tournament would however create a most memorable final. After Portugal were knocked out by France and Italy defeated Germany in an epic in Dortmund, the Italians would lift the trophy, defeating the French on penalties following the unbelievable red card to Zinedine Zidane for his headbutt on Marco Materazzi. The 2006 tournament is now remembered for the headbutt as a violent reminder, but the Battle of Nuremberg will live long in the memory as a tragic example of fair-play and a sense of deja vu for the Dutch.

The "Violent" World Cup?
"Fifa always talks about fair play but tonight we saw several gestures that were anything but."
Luis Felipe Scolari

"It was a very intense match, both teams were considered title contenders, thus no one wanted to lose and go home"
Valentin Ivanov

"This was a game of emotion, with exceptional drama in the last instant, with a deserved winner,"
Sepp Blatter


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