In a match that had been eagerly anticipated by the host nation since the dramatic last-gasp win against England, Wednesday night’s showdown had all the ingredients for a classic.
The Dutch have been favourites for every major competition since 1974 on talent alone – yet ‘oranje’ teams have failed to win anything bar the European Championships in 1988. This time around they once more failed to impress, despite tremendous individual skills. In contrast, Portugal has improved from game to game, and the expectation of a first senior tournament success has been gaining momentum.
The game began well for Portugal, with two half-chances going the home-nation’s way in the first 10 minutes. Figo, probably having his best half of the tournament, set up Ronaldo in the 17th and Pauleta in the 23rd minute, but both attempts failed to find the net. Then Ronaldo took the ball down the left, Deco took the resulting corner and Ronaldo was perfectly placed to put Portugal ahead. The Dutch immediately launched a counter-attack, only to almost go two behind to a Pauleta shot, scooped off the line by Van der Sar. One Overmars disallowed goal later, Figo clipped the post before the half-time whistle.
The Portuguese onslaught continued in part two, Figo once more stoking the attack. Pauleta should have doubled the advantage in the 53rd minute when there was only the goalie to beat – but the final glory came from Ronaldo, whose quickly taken corner was crashed home by Maniche from the edge of the area. The score of 2-0 should have calmed the ecstatic fans, but anxiety returned when Jorge Andrade’s boot caused the ball to loop over his own keeper. The Dutch attacked with renewed vigour, but in the end it was Portugal who were unlucky not to extend their lead. Sunday and the Henry Delaunay trophy beckon!