Sometimes in a game of football, a referee just loses control. Crazily enough, in a game in which Russian referee Valentin Ivanov brandished sixteen yellow cards and four reds, you’d be hard pressed to say that he lost the plot. There were few sickeningly disgusting challenges in the game, but there were just a crazy amount of fouls. Naturally the referee botched a few calls, giving weak yellows, but that is indicative of most referees. There were very few decisions in which fans could question, Costinha, Deco, Boulahrouz and van Bronckhorst all saw red in this ludicrous Round of 16 fixture between Portugal and the Netherlands. Oh, and in amongst thecarnage, a little football was played.
Oftentimes, in important fixtures, referees allow the play to flow early on, avoiding early bookings to avoid red cards being brandished recklessly. This mindset was not for Valentin Ivanov, who booked both Mark van Bommel and Khalid Boulahrouz in the first ten minutes. Van Bommel was booked for a scything slide tackle on the halfway line, while Boulahrouz was booked for studding Cristiano Ronaldo in his upper thigh.
It was 23 minutes into the game when the game’s only goal was scored by the Portuguese. Pauleta laid a pass off to Portugal’s Maniche on the edge of the box. Maniche took the pass in his stride, sidestepped a couple of Dutch defenders before firing his shot beyond Edwin van der Sar and into the net. The Manchester United goalkeeper was helpless as Maniche gave the Iberians the lead in Nuremberg.
Robin van Persie came painstakingly close to equalising for the Netherlands. The Arsenal forward broke into the box, wrongfooting Portugal left back Nuno Valente, making Valente and Ricardo Carvalho slide aimlessly as van Persie glided past the pair. He got a shot away, but it fired wide, to the relief of Portugal manager Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Pauleta nearly doubled Portugal’s lead minutes before halftime. Simao, on for the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, fired a cross low into the penalty area. Luis Figo flicked the cross to Pauleta with the back of his heal, with the PSG striker hitting his shot low and hard into the legs of Edwin van der Sar.
Portugal had played well in the first half, but their dominance took a hit on half time as defensive midfielder Costinha received his second yellow of the game. His first was for a rash slide tackle on Phillip Cocu, the second was for an unfortunate handball. Both were frustrating for Costinha, but both were hard to argue.
The Netherlands were obviously invigorated by playing with a man advantage, and nearly equalised shortly into the second half. A cross was hit into the middle of the box. An overhead kick was attempted by the Dutch, though the effort was poor, hitting off Nuno Valente. The ricochet off Valente fell in the path of Phillip Cocu, who cannoned his shot off the crossbar.
An hour into the match and, while the score was not level, the number of men per team was. Luis Figo was a glorious player in his game, yet his antics which saw Khalid Boulahrouz sent off were shameful. Figo was dribbling down the touchline and Boulahrouz got in between the Portuguese winger and the ball, in a perfectly fair manner. Boulahrouz’s arm swung as he ran and Figo claimed that he had been assaulted by an elbow. The referee had been conned by some embarrassing cheating and consequently waved a second yellow card at Khalid.
The football was beginning to take a backseat in this Round of 16 game as tempers flared amongst both teams. While the referee was having a good game, both teams felt he was losing control and began lashing out with some nasty tackles.
Deco picked up two yellow cards within the space of five minutes. His first was for an ugly hacking slide tackle of Johnny Heitinga. This started a mini brawl amongst the two teams. The second was sheer stupidity from the Barcelona playmaker. The referee blew for a foul and Deco picked the ball up. Cocu was obviously wanting to get the ball back, desperate to get his team back into the game. Deco refused to hand it over, grappling with Cocu and eventually throwing the ball away. The referee did not stand for Deco’s petulance and waved a second yellow card at him, less than five minutes after his first, much to Deco’s disbelief.
The Netherlands should have equalised a minute after Portugal’s second red of the evening. Dirk Kuyt was in acres of space on account of Portugal playing with nine men. Kuyt took a fraction too long to control the pass, meaning that he had to shoot with his first touch. His shot was more tame than it should have been, Ricardo saved easily to keep Portugal’s lead intact. The shot hit Ricardo in a rather unfortunate place, with the goalkeeper having to take a moment to himself to…compose himself…
With just a minute of regular time left to play, Kuyt had another chance to bring the Dutch level. A header on the edge of Portugal’s box caught out the defence, with the bounce landing in the path of Dirk Kuyt. Kuyt rushed out to the edge of the box to meet the ball, turning and volleying towards goal. The shot stung the gloves of Ricardo, but it would have taken a goalkeeping howler to beat Ricardo from that effort.
With two red cards and a couple of brawls in the second half, a hefty chunk of added time was added by the fourth official. So much, in fact, that there was time for one more red card! Giovanni van Bronckhorst was the recipient this time. His first yellow was a reckless tackle on the hour mark, his second came in the 95th minute. He initially put in a terrific tackle on Simao, but a poor touch saw Tiago win the loose ball. In his tired state, van Bronckhorst tripped the Portuguese midfielder up, leaving the referee no choice but to give the Barcelona left back a second yellow card.
Portugal won 1-0, it was an excellent game for the neutrals, but not necessarily for football reasons. This game boasts the record for most cards shown at a World Cup match, with Valentin Ivanov showing sixteen yellow cards, resulting in four reds. It was laughable, an insight backed up by Deco and van Bronckhorst. After the latter’s red card, he went and sat next to Deco, his Barcelona teammate, and the pair were seen laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of the scenario. This World Cup fixture may not be a footballing classic, but is undoubtedly a World Cup classic.
Tommrow’s game: June 26th. Switzerland v Ukraine. 2006.