Under coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, Portugal are thriving as they shake off their underachievers tag and go into the knock-out stage of the World Cup Finals full of confidence.
Having won all three of their group matches, including a 2-1 victory over Mexico in which Scolari was able to rest some key players, Portuguese football is on the up as the Europeans look to go one better than their loss in the final of Euro 2004 to Greece.
In that tournament held on the Iberian peninsular, Portugal’s semi final victims were none other then the Netherlands, where goals to midfielders Cristiano Ronaldo and Maniche Ribeiro were enough for the Portuguese to advance to the final, even after they gifted the Netherlands a Jorge Andrade own goal.
Portugal have no injury or suspension worries going into the match, and although ‘Big Phil’ tinkered with his team in the last match of the group stage, he is likely to revert to his strongest 11 against the Dutch.
Under control: Cristiano Ronaldo
Scolari didn’t sound over-confident nor nervous heading into the match against a team that has not beaten Portugal since 1991.
“It’s only the second time Portugal has qualified for the second round in 40 years but we have to look at it game by game,” Scolari said.
“All the teams are very balanced and very even, they’re in good condition. There are five or six teams which I believe are the best, they might be playing very well but one day they can have an off-day and be eliminated.”
The Dutch view
The Netherlands don’t have any suspensions or injuries to worry about either, however coach Marco van Basten hinted he may make changes to his side ahead of the must-win match as he is unhappy with the form of Manchester United player Ruud van Nistelrooy.
“Ruud has not been good. He hasn’t been on form in the first matches,” van Basten said.
“He has to give us a lot more.”
The under fire striker had words of his own about the task against Portugal, but van Basten would much prefer it if he let his feet do the talking and score some goals.
Team Oranje before their match
“Portugal beat us two years ago, but the next game is something completely different. This is a new, young team, and we have new ideas,” said van Nistelrooy.
The flying Dutchman Arjen Robben will return to the side along with Barcelona midfielder Mark van Bommel, after both players were rested in their team’s match against Argentina due to being on yellow cards.
One player who has played all 270 minutes for the Dutch so far is experienced midfielder Phillip Cocu, who also referred to the last time the two teams met, with his team keen to square the ledger.
“Now, up against Portugal, we have to forget about the trauma of Euro 2004,” said PSV Eindhoven’s Cocu.
“Don’t look at the past, but only think about playing a good match.”
It may well help the Dutch to forget the past, as their record against Portugal has not been good.
The winner of this match will go on to face the winner of the game between England and Ecuador in the quarter finals.