25 Sep 2020 5:21 PM +00:00

Portugal vs Netherlands: Remembering ‘The Battle of Nuremberg’

(Photo credits - Florian K)

A round of 16 knockout tie in the 2006 World Cup, a tense clash was to be expected, however what followed made history for all the wrong reasons. Portugal and The Netherlands had met previously at the 2004 European Championship semi-final, with the Portuguese running out 2-1 winners and progressing to the final.

The tie broke records, but not records either team will be proudly boasting as a World Cup record 20 cards were issued, 16 of them yellow and four being red. This record transcends the World Cup as well, being the most-carded game in any FIFA-administrated tournament. Portugal won 1-0, but the game is not remembered for the scoreline.

Cruel Intentions

It was clear from the start what sort of game it was to be, when Mark Van Bommel was booked in just the second minute for a late challenge on Cristiano Ronaldo, who suffered the brunt of the opening exchanges. In fact, Ronaldo was targeted so badly he was forced off before the end of the first half, with Dutch defender Khalid Boulahrouz to blame after his high foot caught the winger on the inner thigh.

Maniche was next in the book on 19 minutes for a late tackle on Van Bommel, who had a target on his back for setting the tone in the opening minutes. 

Just four minutes later Maniche would score the only goal of the game, but unfortunately few remember the game for his brilliant finish, but what would follow; utter carnage.


The tie had become somewhat of a grudge match between the two Europeans nations, with Holland only winning one out of the ten meetings between the two before the knockout clash.

Shortly after the goal, it seemed all about who could do the most damage and get away with it. 

Late challenges were common place from here on in and the game became everything that football shouldn’t be – score settling and destruction. 

Portugal’s resident enforcer Costinha was next to be cautioned after intentionally going in late on Cocu and would become the first of four men to be sent off, with his second yellow coming inside the first half after a deliberate handball. Costinha became the 32nd man to be sent off in the first half of a World Cup game and only the second player in Portuguese history to do so, after Joao Pinto became the first in the 2002 World Cup.

Second Half Chaos

Petit, who was only subbed on in the 46th minute, was the recipient of the sixth yellow of the night's clash at the 50-minute mark. 

Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Luis Figo received simultaneous bookings after tensions became too high and the two clashed, with Figo receiving his yellow card for headbutting Van Bommel. He somehow escaped a red card, inconceivable in the modern game. 

For all the cards dished out during the game, a blatant headbutt somehow was able to somewhat go under the radar and allowed the icon Figo to stay on the field.

Boulahrouz was eventually given his marching orders, the second red card of the game at this point, as he fouled Figo in the 63rd minute, deliberately throwing an arm into the face of the Portugal captain. 


This would culminate in a touchline brawl involving Boulahrouz and the Portuguese bench, with fourth official Marco Rodriguez eventually stepping in and forcing a separation, eventually getting Boulahrouz off the pitch. 

Deco was next. The little architect received a yellow for a cynical challenge on Heitinga, and the Netherlands failed to return the ball after Portugal had kicked it out to allow for medical treatment. At this point this was just a blatant provocation and an easy way to wind up the Portuguese even further. 

The challenge lead to another brawl, which saw Wesley Sneijder enter the book for pushing over Petit, and Rafael Van Der Vaart joining the ever-growing list for dissent. 

Selecao left-back Nuno Valente became the first of the defensive line to be carded for another harsh challenge and goalkeeper Ricardo followed shortly after for time-wasting.

Deco became the third player to receive a second yellow for deliberately delaying an attempted quick free-kick by the Dutch. He would later be joined by the final man to be carded, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who received a second yellow for a blatant foul on Tiago.

Post-match reactions

Understandably, most of the criticism was focused on the Russian referee Valentin Ivanov, who many had claimed he lost control of the tie, but there wasn’t really much he could do short of calling the match off entirely. 

The then FIFA president Sepp Blatter personally criticised the official, 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."

However, Blatter would later go on to retract his claim and personally apologise to Ivanov for his public criticism of the Russian.


Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Portuguese head coach, was also under fire after the game when he seemingly gave his approval of Deco’s headbutt. He stated: "Jesus Christ may have been able to turn the other cheek but Deco isn’t Jesus."

Portugal would go on to knock England out in the following quarter-final without the suspended Deco and Costinha, but eventually fell to France in the semi-finals and lose to Germany in the third-place play off. 

The sides have only met twice since the controversial affair, with tonight’s clash being the first meeting since 2013.

Somehow, I can’t see there being 20 cards shown in this one, though.

What are your memories of the game? Let us know in the comments section below.

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