Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A war of attrition.

Portugal 1-0 Holland.

A match that promised so much. 2 heavyweights battling it out to reach the last 8. 2 teams with so much promise going forward, with great coaches. We did get to see some of this much vaunted attack but instead the after match analysis has tended to focus on the 4 red cards, a world cup finals record.

Referee Ivanov

Sepp Blatter has criticised Ivanov for his performance, and in some ways I agree. He was a bit too quick to caution the players, not really adopting the common sense approach that passions will run high and we can afford to be a little lenient. However red cards did seem inevitable in this clash as players came to blows and players lunged in with the tackles. Figo is also lucky not to have received a red card for headbutting. The commentator expressed thoughts that FIFA would look at the incident and may consider imposing a suspension, however I was proved correct in my thoughts that FIFA would choose not to intervene because Ivanov had seen the situation, and had meted out a punishment. I was right, this was exactly their standpoint. I don't actually agree with this standpoint because referee's can get punishments wrong and the high powered technology can reveal for all to see exactly what occurred. So yes, a bad tempered affair with 16 flashing yellows including 8 for the sent off men who were all given their marching orders for second bookable offences rather than straight reds.

Portugal: Were under the cosh right from the start but got the only goal of the game against the run of play. And what a brilliant goal it was too! After some intricate build-up play Deco sent the ball inside the penalty area, Pauleta laid the ball off to Maniche who brilliantly shimmied to create space and cracked the ball home much to his delight. They started to take some control of the match only for Christiano Ronaldo to succumb to injury. He tried to run it off but ultimately he left the field in tears. He is expected to recover for the England clash though, a match he describes as "very special" because he plays in England with Manchester United. They received their first red card at the end of the first half: the only red card there should be absolutely no doubts about having received two yellow cards for a crude challenge and a deliberate handball, but who could have so easily already had a second booking and thus his marching orders. Scolari reacted to the red card by withdrawing striker Pauleta for more of a midfield enforcer in Petit. In the second half Portugal also had to defend a lot as Holland pressed for the equaliser, but for the most part they did their duties admirably as Ricardo did well in goal and the rest of the defence kept it reasonably tight. Deco's red card and subsequent suspension will be a huge loss for the Portugese in their match against England as he is such a crucial figure for the team.

Holland had the better of the goalscoring chances. Early on both Van Bommel and Van Persie had shots narrowly miss which they were made to rue as Maniche scored the only goal of the game. Van Persie again came incredibly close before half-time, and Van der Sar kept the margin at one with an excellent save from Pauleta at point-blank range. In the second half Holland looked to make their man advantage count, Phillip Cocu smashing into the crossbar from close range in the unluckiest moment of the game. Van Bommel hit a vicious long range effort that Ricardo did well to save, and in the 81st minute Kuyt had a great chance, one on one with Ricardo the chance was smothered, Kuyt should probably have flicked it to his left to go round the keeper which would have left him merely needing to stroke the ball home. His legs weren't in the best position though as they were a little too outstretched to make it comfortable. Still, he should have done better. Holland had more than double the shots of Portugal and played really well offensively. Regardless, and unfortunately for them, they are eliminated.

The Holland side are young, inexperienced and talented. Van Basten made the tough call to leave most of the experienced players behind and go with youth. It could have paid off. He is a young, talented manager, and should he remain at the helm will be a big force in Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010. I will question one thing though. At the eleventh hour with Holland desperately needing a goal, why did Van Basten refuse to even give Ruud Van Nistlerooy on the bench, cutting a forlorn figure? I know they had a bit of a spat/chat midweek which was leaked to the media but here they were in the round of 16, about to get eliminated, and the immense scoring prowess of Van Nistlerooy was never even called upon. Strange. But there we have it. No more Holland at World Cup 2006!

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