Unforgettable World Cup Moments: Battle of Nuremberg in 2006

With the 2022 World Cup in Qatar due to get underway in November, we're taking a look back through the history of the World Cup at the good, the bad and the amazing moments that remain in our memories to this very day and will live on forever.

With so much at stake at the World Cup, for all nations involved, it’s understandable for some games to get a little feisty. But sometimes, the competitiveness of a game can spiral out of control. That’s precisely what happened in a World Cup match between Holland and Portugal in 2006. As you may recall, the 2006 World Cup was held in Germany, and the ultimate winners of the tournament were Italy. This sealed the 4th World Cup title for the Italians, but this didn’t take most of the headlines following the event.

In fact, the game between Portugal and Holland was probably the most talked about event from the entire tournament. The game was so dirty that it was even given a nickname – the Battle of Nuremberg. If you watched the game live, you would be forgiven if you thought you were watching a UFC clash instead of a football match. The fouls were hideous, the tension was off the charts, and at the end of the game, the referee had issued a total of 20 cards. This alone was a record for any single FIFA-sanctioned tournament game.

Battle of Nuremberg

And thanks to this, the 2006 World Cup was in fact the dirtiest World Cup on record. When the tournament was all wrapped up, a total of 345 yellow cards had been given. This was backed up by 28 red cards, which is just staggering. To this day, the record hasn’t been beaten for either the individual match or the World Cup as a whole. Not that this is a record that anybody would exactly want to beat.

Anyway – if you’ve come here for a breakdown of the story of the Battle of Nuremberg, you’ve come to the right place.

Overview of Portugal vs Holland game

The 2006 game between Holland and Portugal was a round-of-16 match. Portugal won Group D whereas the Netherlands (Holland) finished as the runners-up in Group C. This set the stage for a Portugal vs Holland clash in the round of 16, but few would have predicted how this one would’ve played out. The game itself was played on June 25h, 2006, and the location for the game was the Frankenstadion in Nuremberg. Of course, this is where the nickname of the ‘Battle of Nuremberg’ comes from, as the game was played in Nuremberg. 

The game was played in front of 41,000 spectators in the Frankenstadion stadium. However, like many World Cup games, millions of people were watching this one unfold at home. Again, the viewers were not expecting this one to evolve into the filthiest FIFA game on record. And the unfortunate referee for this game was a Russian by the name of Valentin Ivanov. Naturally, he would also become famous for handing out a total of 20 cards in this one game alone. We have no doubt that the players involved will remember his name too, probably without too much fondness involved!

As for the reasons for the animosity in this game, there were no real indicators that it had the potential to get pretty ugly. In fact, the most recent game between the two was played at the Euro 2004 tournament, which was fairly contested in comparison. Obviously, it might have hurt the Dutch to lose in the semis of a major tournament like the Euros. But nothing major went down in that match to prompt such behaviour in the 2006 World Cup game.

Specific details of the Battle of Nuremberg

Now we have arrived at the fun part – the breakdown of this famous match. Of course, the Battle of Nuremberg is famous for being the dirtiest World Cup game on record. And once you’ve read through the details of the game, you’ll understand why this game has its own place in the history books. Therefore, let us get started by running through the key elements of this match right now:

You know the deal when it comes to football matches. If some bad challenges are seen early on in the game, referees tend to be a little more lenient than they are later on. So it’s somewhat rare to see yellow cards flying out of a referee's pocket in the opening moments of any match. However, this wasn’t the case in the Battle of Nuremberg. In fact, the first yellow card was handed out in the 2nd minute to the Netherlands player, Mark van Bommel. 

Portugal Holland 2006

Ironically, this freak incident of a yellow card being given in the 2nd minute set the stage for how this match would play out. And this initial yellow card was closely followed by another yellow card being given to a Dutch player in the 7th minute. This time, the player getting booked was Khalid Boulahrouz, and this yellow card was one of the most impactful in the game. His challenge on Cristiano Ronaldo that prompted the yellow card would ultimately take Ronaldo out of the game. 

But besides that, it was somewhat staggering to see that two yellow cards had been given in less than 10 minutes of play.

The tackle that took Cristiano Ronaldo out of the game 

We’ve mentioned above that Boulahrouz was booked for his challenge on Cristiano Ronaldo after 7 minutes. However, this wasn’t just a yellow card and a slap on the wrist for the Dutch player. The challenge was so bad that Cristiano Ronaldo had to be substituted after 33 minutes. After the game, Ronaldo condemned Boulahrouz for the challenge by stating that he had no intention of getting the ball. Ronaldo stated that the sole intention of this challenge was to get him injured, and if that was the intention, it worked.

Cristiano Ronaldo would play no further part in the Battle of Nuremberg. This meant that Portugal would have to play without their star man against a formidable Dutch squad for a total of 67 minutes, although they still pulled out a 1-0 win. Ronaldo actually left the pitch in tears too, which was tough to watch for Portuguese fans.

Obviously, a yellow card is given by a referee during a football game in order to caution a player. This can be for a range of reasons, but generally speaking, they are handed out for bad challenges and other dangerous behaviour on the pitch. Therefore, it’s amazing that the referee deemed it necessary to hand out 16 yellow cards in the space of 90 minutes for this match. No other game in FIFA-sanctioned events has matched this record, which really does tell a story as to the viciousness of this game. 

In terms of the breakdown of these cards, Portugal received 9 yellow cards and Holland received 7 yellow cards. Therefore, you could argue that Portugal played a dirtier game than Holland. But either way, it’s clear that both sides weren’t exactly doing things by the book.

Four players receiving red cards

Of the 16 yellow cards that were given during this game, 4 of them were given as a second yellow card. This means that four players were subsequently sent off in this match. Although there is a small positive to take (if that’s possible) – no player received a straight red card. However, this by no means excuses the fact that both teams finished the game with 9 men on the field. 

Holland Portugal 2006

Costinha was the first player to be sent off during the game. The Portuguese player received his second yellow card before the half-time whistle. Not long into the second half, the man that took Ronaldo out of the game was given his second yellow, resulting in Boulahrouz heading off the field in the 63rd minute. Things then calmed down for all of 15 minutes before Deco of Portugal got his second yellow in the 78th minute. In fact, he picked up his two yellow cards in the space of five minutes – impressive! 

The final victim of the red cards was Holland’s Giovanni van Bronckhorst, but this came in the 95th minute, so it didn’t have an enormous impact on the match. 

Valentin Ivanov heavily criticized

Since the famous Battle of Nuremberg, the referee, Valentin Ivanov has received plenty of criticism for his handling of the game. Many claim that he was just far too quick to issue cards to the players involved in the incident. However, Ivanov has since been defended by his father, claiming that FIFA had instructed all referees to be tough on foul play during the tournament. But despite these claims from his father, the FIFA president at the time, Sepp Blatter, stressed that Ivanov should have also given a yellow card to himself for such a poor refereeing performance.

A public apology from Blatter was issued after these comments. However, Ivanov was relieved of his duties following the game and he would not referee another game in the 2006 World Cup tournament. Because of this, it’s fair to say that FIFA agreed that Ivanov was far too harsh on the players during this match. But let’s be honest – he has created a great moment in World Cup history, regardless of whether you agree with his choices that day or not.

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Gavin Davison

Gavin is a full-time copywriter based in the UK and has developed in-depth knowledge of the igaming world by working in the betting industry for over five years. During this time, he has written thousands of articles covering various topics, including bookmaker reviews, ‘how to’ guides, bonus comparisons and much more.