FIFA World Cup moments: When Portugal, Netherlands made the referee go into overdrive in the Battle of Nuremberg

Not all the memorable moments that we revisit in this FIFA World Cup series are ones that will be remembered fondly by the generations to come. There are times when the beautiful game often took an ugly turn, whether in the form of a goal-denying handball or through a headbutt followed by a red card.

Then again, there are games where the referee goes into an overdrive in awarding red and yellow cards, which leaves a bad taste among both the players as well as the fans. The round of 16 clash between Portugal and Netherlands in the 2006 World Cup, which is popularly remembered by many as the infamous 'Battle of Nuremberg' is a shining example of a contest that leaves everyone going "What did we just witness?" at the end of the game.

The match hosted at Nuremberg's Frankenstadion (currently going by the name Max-Morlock-Stadion), which was also incidentally the last time the two sides met in a World Cup game, saw four red and 16 yellow cards, the most in a FIFA World Cup game, being pulled out by Russian referee Valentin Ivanov.

Referee Valentin Ivanov issues a red card to Portugal's Costinha. Reuters

Referee Valentin Ivanov issues a red card to Portugal's Costinha. Reuters

Portugal and Netherlands had been having a bit of a rivalry in the years building up to the 2006 event in Germany, with the former emerging winner in the Euro 2004 semi-final clash by a 2-1 margin. The defeat would've been fresh in the minds of the Dutchmen, who signalled their intentions by opting to give Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo some rough treatment right from the start.

Ronaldo, 21 at the time, was tackled by Mark Van Bommel (2') and Khalid Boulahrouz (5') within the first five minutes. While both the offenders were booked for the same, Ronaldo left the ground in tears when he was substituted in the 34th minute.

The fouls against Ronaldo might have played its part in propelling his teammates to give it back to the Oranje. Portuguese midfielder Maniche decided to go after Van Bommel in the 20th minute, becoming the first from his team to go into the book. However, he followed it up with a goal three minutes later, the only one scored in that frenzied encounter.

The first half ended with Costinha getting sent off in the last minute getting a second yellow card following a handball. There had been a plenty of tussles in the first 45 minutes, but it was only going to get worse in the second half.

Petit, who came in for Pauleta barely a minute into the second half, was booked in the 50th minute for tugging Van Bommel's arm. Luis Figo headbutted Van Bommel, and somehow got away with it, but Boulahrouz, who got a yellow in the first half, got sent off in the 62nd minute. The situation got even worse after Boulahrouz's exit, with six yellow cards and a red (leading to Deco's ouster) being produced in a span of five minutes.

The period saw multiple run-ins between the players, with the squabbles often taking place at the touchline where the bench and officials from either side got involved. Ivanov made his last booking of the evening by issuing a second yellow for Giovanni van Bronckhorst in the final minute, and by the time the final whistle was blown, everyone present at the Frankenstadion would've breathed a sigh of relief at the sham that was supposed to be an evenly-matched contest between two quality sides finally coming to an end. Barcelona teammates Deco and Van Bronkhorst were spotted sitting next to each other after the end of play having a chat, a sight which somewhat reaffirmed the notion of football is just a game at the end of the day.

The 90-minute battle was met with a variety of reactions from across the world. "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," is what then FIFA chief Sepp Blatter was quoted as saying, reacting to the events of the match, although he apologised for the tongue-in-cheek remark later.

The two sides didn't meet each other until six years later at Euro 2012, co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine. Mercifully for fans of the two sides, this game was played in much better spirit. Ronaldo, who was at the receiving end of Dutch aggression six years ago, scored a brace on this occasion to seal a quarter-final berth.

Let's hope the 2018 event in Russia doesn't bear witness to another ill-spirited clash that only leaves behind a stain in the legacy of the tournament.

To read about other famous FIFA World Cup moments, click here.


Updated Date: Jun 03, 2018 22:09 PM

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