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Nothing beautiful about this game

Holland fell to a wily Portugese team which showed better team cohesion. But, at the end football suffered, writes Dhiman Sarkar.

india Updated: Jun 27, 2006 03:05 IST

Hands in his pockets, he stood surveying the wreckage of a dream. As Marco van Basten dragged himself away from the Franken-Stadion park where his players lay spent, Eusebio gave him a cursory pat. Holland had fallen to a wily Brazilian whose team showed better time management skills to compensate for their numerical inferiority and protect a 1-0 lead.

Ruud van Nistelrooy's World Cup ended on the bench as Holland go home. Luiz Felipe Scolari meanwhile lives, his run of World Cup victories extended to 11 games. Luis Figo too, albeit on a yellow card.

Portugal are now one step away from emulating their feat of 1966 when they reached the semis. Standing between them are England and a quarter-final six days later in Gelsenkirchen.

In the most ill-tempered match of the competition so far, both teams ended with nine men and a total of 16 yellow cards were shown. Figo had another good game but he too could have been expelled for headbutting Van Bommel. Referee Valentin Ivanov didn't see it. That was just one of the things he did wrong on Sunday evening. And football suffered.
The Russian lost control in the second half, his plight encapsulated by running to his assistants to check what happened in the aftermath of Deco’s foul. It had Edwin van der Sar running into Portugal territory and Ricardo leaving his line to make a point. In between, Arjen Robben chested Petit down.

It was ironic that Khalid Boulahrouz's second bookable offence may have had something to do with Figo's histrionics. The defender's first-half lunge on Cristiano Ronaldo's right thigh, which forced the winger to the bench, should have deserved more than a booking. And Nuno Valente's leaving his leg in the air when Robben went for a ball shouldn't have been left unpunished. 

Six minutes of added time in the second half got the teams down to nine men with van Bronckhorst seeing his second yellow for a foul on Simao in the 95th. But it can't really make up for the disruption in rhythm caused by the stoppages. Every time a foul happened, players ran towards Ivanov and often got physical. 

It gave Portugal time to catch their breath. The little substitution drama with Figo too meant reprieve for the tired legs. 

Costinha and Deco are out of the England tie. Four more - Figo, Nuno Valente, Ricardo and Maniche - are one booking away from missing the semi-final should Portugal get past England.

But like without Ronaldinho against England four years ago, Scolari showed he could pull a team out even when he doesn't have the numbers. Pauleta was sacrificed for Costinha with Petit coming on and Figo moving up. 

Portugal stayed back denying Holland space especially on the flanks where Robben and van Persie were available. They forced Holland to play down the middle where the defenders won the aerial tackles.

Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink tried to give Holland some aerial advantage but had less than 10 minute to make his presence felt.   

Dirk Kuyt was twice denied after the breather. The Dutch had crosses screaming across the face of goal begging to be put away. Once Phillip Cocu swung his shot into the upright and Van Bommel's effort was kept out by Ricardo. The ball just wouldn't go in for Holland.

It did at the other end in the 23rd minute through a slick four-pass move set going by Figo. He found Ronaldo who lost but retrieved the ball before playing it forward to Deco. Portugal's midfield fulcrum waited for Pauleta to move in before playing square. The lone forward poked it for Maniche getting Bouhlahrouz to lose his balance. The Chelsea medio drilled his shot past Ooijer into the top corner.

For all of Holland's possession, Portugal's threats on the break looked more menacing. Figo's dummied for Pauleta whose shot was kept out by Van der Sar, the skipper whose 113th cap was the most ever by a Holland player, managing to get a leg. He also kept Holland in the game by saving a second-half cannonball from Maniche.