Portugal 1 Netherlands 0: Portugal's nine men survive to face England

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The Independent Online

Portugal and the coach who turned down England, Luiz Felipe Scolari, stand between Sven Goran Eriksson's team and the World Cup semi-finals. But they will go into the game at Gelsenkirchen on Saturday without the suspended Deco and Costinha after an ugly match, littered with violent incidents, ended with nine men apiece and defeat for the Netherlands.

The Dutch had Khalid Boulahrouz banished, followed in stoppage time by Giovanni van Bronckhorst, but could not find a way through even after Deco's 78th-minute dismissal following a scuffle with Phillip Cocu. Portugal used packed defence and downright illegality to protect a fine first-half goal by Maniche, who spent part of last season on loan to Chelsea.

As had been widely predicted, Ruud van Nistelrooy was relegated to the Dutch bench, completing a fall from favour with club and country in the space of three months. His place as the attacking spearhead went to the robust Dirk Kuyt.

Scolari, for one, had mused ominously upon the prospect of extra time and penalties. A rapid breakthrough for either side might have changed the complexion of the contest. Mark van Bommel almost delivered one inside 60 seconds, shooting narrowly wide from Kuyt's pass.

Russia failed to qualify for the finals, yet their referee, Valentin Ivanov, seemed determined not to go unnoticed. He produced a yellow card for Van Bommel within the first minute, another for Boulahrouz six minutes later ­ when the studs planted in the thigh of Cristiano Ronaldo arguably merited a red ­ and added Maniche before sending off Costinha.

If the football, as opposed to the foul play, was anti-climactic, the 23rd minute changed all that. Ronaldo began the move with a sharp turn under pressure from three defenders. A pass to Deco led to a low cross from the right which Pauleta laid off to Maniche, who reprised his goal against Mexico with the added aplomb of swerving away from two defenders before finishing.

The Netherlands could hardly say they were not forewarned. Maniche, nominally a defensive midfielder, had scored the winner against them in the semi-finals of Euro 2004. His latest goal, sadly, was Ronaldo's last significant involvement. Still suffering the effects of Boulahrouz's challenge, he was substituted in tears 12 minutes before the break.

Robin van Persie almost conjured an equaliser with some old-fashioned winger's skills, although Edwin van der Sar, setting a Netherlands record with his 113th cap, was the busier goalkeeper. Van Nistelrooy's club colleague used a foot to keep out Pauleta's shot after Sabrosa Simao's cross had been dummied by Luis Figo.

However, instead of being 2-0 up Portugal were down to 10 men at half-time. Costinha handled and was sent off for a second bookable offence, Scolari shaking his head at the folly of it all.

Scolari knows how to win World Cup matches with 10 men, of course, his Brazil team of 2002 having held on to a 2-1 lead against England for 34 minutes after Ronaldinho's dismissal. His response here was to withdraw a forward, Pauleta, and send on another holding midfielder, Armando Petit, whose name also went into the referee's notebook almost immediately.

Portugal had effectively switched to 4-5-0, pulling everyone behind the ball and foraging from deep positions through Figo and Simao. The strategy invited the Netherlands to come on to them, and the start of the second half saw Phillip Cocu thump a shot against the underside of the bar and Ricardo Pereira divert a drive by Van Bommel inches wide. When Portugal did break out, they still carried a threat. Miguel Monteiro's 50-yard solo run ended with a shot that Van der Sar did well to parry, while Maniche also tested the veteran.

Portugal were fortunate not to be further depleted shortly before the hour mark. As rival players jostled each other following another foul, Figo head-butted Van Bommel, who fell to the turf in instalments, and somehow escaped with only a caution.

The rancour spilled over again in the 62nd minute. Figo was again involved, but this time he was the victim of a swing of Boulahrouz's elbow as he pushed the ball past him. Players were joined by their coaching staffs and substitutes in a brawl. When peace was restored, Boulahrouz was sent off and could have no arguments after his earlier assault on Ronaldo.

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