Portugal Plays Its Cards Right
Portugal, venturing where no Portuguese national team has gone since the days of the great Eusebio, today finds itself in the quarterfinals of soccer’s 2006 World Cup.
It is there because of the skills of a brilliant midfielder named Maniche, who scored a textbook goal against the Netherlands on Sunday night, after which he and his teammates made it stand up for a 1-0 victory.
It was at the England ’66 World Cup when Portugal last went this far, and strangely enough it will be England that Portugal plays in the quarterfinal in Gelsenkirchen on Saturday.
The chances of that match coming anywhere near Sunday’s barnburner are remote. Consider:
* The Dutch outshot the Portuguese, 20-10, but failed to find a way past goalkeeper Ricardo.
* The Portuguese scored in the 23rd minute, then held the lead for the next 67 minutes, plus a nerve-racking six minutes of added time.
* The added time was longer than usual because Russian referee Valentin Ivanov saw fit to eject a World Cup-record four players from the match -- two from each side -- and also issued 16 yellow cards.
* The game featured foul play aplenty, twice sparking on-field brawls, but also had moments of genuine quality.
One such moment produced Maniche’s goal.
It came after Portugal had demonstrated that it had the quicker, more inventive players than the stolid Dutch. The move was initiated by Manchester United live-wire forward Cristiano Ronaldo, who sent the ball forward to Brazilian-born playmaker Deco.
Deco cut it back to striker Pauleta, lurking in front of the Dutch net. Pauleta instantly attracted a trio of defenders trying to close him down. So he slipped the ball to Maniche, who blasted a shot that sailed beyond Dutch goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Saar’s dive and just inside the right post.
After scoring, Maniche, who plays for Chelsea, sprinted to one corner of the stadium, kissing his shirt along the way, then stood and accepted the tributes of the Portuguese faithful.
The fans loved every minute of it. The Dutch were less amused.
They had shown their intentions as early as the eighth minute, when defender Khalid Boulahrouz had come in flying with cleats raised and spiked Ronaldo on the right thigh.
Ronaldo was taken off to have the thigh strapped but by the 34th minute could not continue and had to be substituted.
The tone of the game was set.
Just before the half ended, Van Der Saar made a superb save off a shot by Pauleta and, seconds later, Portugal’s Costinha earned the first red card when he intentionally handled the ball. Deco would follow him to the locker room, as would the Netherlands’ Boulahrouz and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, all for assorted infractions.
The closest the Dutch came to scoring was four minutes into the second half, when forward Dirk Kuyt, starting in place of the out-of-form Ruud Van Nistelrooy, sent the ball in from the left.
Phillip Cocu, with his back to the goal, tried a bicycle kick, but scuffed the ball, which fell into the path of teammate Mark Van Bommel. His shot thundered into the crossbar and the chance was gone.
Just before the hour mark, 33-year-old Luis Figo, still with a few moves in his repertoire and still able to carry them out, mesmerized a couple of defenders with his dribbling, then touched the ball to Maniche, whose blazing shot brought a fine save from Van Der Saar.
The game degenerated into a series of petty fouls and not-so-petty incidents that had the crowd of 41,000 booing as the yellow and red cards piled up.
When the final whistle came, Portugal Coach Luis Felipe Scolari and his assistants could not contain their delight and danced in an impromptu conga line.
The victory extended Scolari’s World Cup-record winning streak to 11 games, including the seven he won in guiding Brazil to the 2002 title.
Dutch Coach Marco Van Basten, meanwhile, was a somber figure, standing on the field with his hands thrust deep in his trouser pockets. Just as it had been in the quarterfinals of Euro 2004, the Netherlands again had been eliminated by Portugal.
It has been 15 years since the Dutch have beaten the Portuguese.