Greatest Football Controversies: The Battle of Nuremburg

The round of 16 match between the Netherlands and Portugal at the 2006 World Cup has earned notoriety for the sheer number of cards awarded by the referee for various infringements and is now referred to as the Battle of Nuremburg. The match was a stop-start affair due to the numerous times the Russian referee Valentin Valentinovich Ivanov blew his whistle.

At the end of the game played at the Frankenstadion in Nuremberg on 25th June 2006, Ivanov had handed an inexplicable 16 yellow cards and four red cards, which all but ensured that no matter which of the two teams progressed to the last eight they wouldn’t be in a position to field their full strength eleven.

However, not all cards were unjustified as the presence of aggressive players like Mark van Bommel and Khalid Boulharouz ensured that tackles would be commonplace and more often than not the referee would have to be vigilant to make sure no lasting damage was done by the challenge-happy players especially in the Dutch ranks.

The card-giving spree began as soon as the second minute of the game with Van Bommel getting into Ivanov’s book, barely five minutes had gone since when the Russian reached into his pocket to pull out another yellow card, this time for Boulharouz. The latter’s card was thoroughly deserved as he went studs up right into the thigh of Cristiano Ronaldo who had to leave the pitch in tears in the 34th minute.

Maniche was the first Portuguese and the next player to get in the book with his yellow card in the 20th minute after tackling a Van Bommel from behind. The only goal of the match came from the boot of Maniche three minute after his yellow card and it proved to be enough for Portugal to put them through to the quarter-finals.

Costinha was next in the book with his sliding tackle on Philip Cocu in the 31st minute and he was off in the first half injury time after needlessly handling the ball. Up until half time, it is fair to say the referee got his cards right. But same cannot be said about the needless stoppages in play for slightest of infringements and what followed in the second half.

Ivanov remained trigger happy in the second half and went on to book Portuguese captain Luis Figo – who head-butted Van Bommel, Deco (twice and hence a red card), second half substitute Petit, defender Nuno Valente, and goalkeeper Ricardo.

From the Dutch side, Boulharouz got the marching orders for a second bookable offence in the 63rd minute, Giovanni van Bronckhorst was off in the injury time for two infringements. Midfielders Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart were also shown yellow cards in the second half.

The match was definitely not played in good spirit with several times players clashing, but the referees’ handling of the game didn’t help in it getting out of control. Later, the then FIFA president Sepp Blatter went on to say the referee might as well have given himself a yellow card.

The match has gained notoriety and is now referred to as the Battle of Nuremburg. A handicapped Portugal went on to lose 1-0 to France in the quarter-final.