EURO Classics: Portugal 2-1 Netherlands

Get the background to a classic UEFA EURO 2004 semi-final, then watch it on UEFA.tv.

Portugal celebrate victory against the Netherlands
Portugal celebrate victory against the Netherlands

The pressure was on Portugal’s most-celebrated stars as they took on the Netherlands in Lisbon for a place in the final of UEFA EURO 2004. Could the hosts handle it?

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Context

World champions at Under-20 level in 1989 and 1991, Portugal’s 'Golden Generation' reached the semis at UEFA EURO 2000 and were desperate to do even better as EURO 2004 hosts, with the likes of Rui Costa, Costinha, Ricardo Carvalho, Luís Figo and Fernando Couto in their prime. After an opening-day defeat, Luiz Felipe Scolari's team were on target to become the first EURO hosts to make the final since France in 1984, but an all-star Dutch side presented iron-hard opposition in Lisbon.

Key players

EURO 2004 highlights: Spotlight on Luís Figo
EURO 2004 highlights: Spotlight on Luís Figo

Luís Figo: Having won UEFA trophies and multiple Spanish titles with both Barcelona and Real Madrid, the master playmaker was team captain for EURO 2004 and – with over 100 caps – was proving an excellent influence on the field.

Ruud van Nistelrooy: A model of goalscoring consistency (provided his troublesome knee held out), the Manchester United striker was featuring at his first major tournament. He showcased his extraordinary finishing by netting in all three Oranje group games.

Cristiano Ronaldo: The youngest member of Portugal’s squad at 19, Ronaldo justified his fast-track progress into the first team. The Man. United winger came off the bench to score in the opening loss to Greece, becoming a regular starter as the tournament unfolded.

What happened

United team-mates Cristiano Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy at full time
United team-mates Cristiano Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy at full timeGetty Images

Portugal held the Netherlands at arm's length and capably probed forward before taking the lead on 26 minutes, Ronaldo heading in Deco's inswinging corner. Marc Overmars and Clarence Seedorf had half-chances to respond, and Van Nistelrooy had a goal chalked off for offside, while Figo hit the bar at the other end.

Portuguese nerves were momentarily dispelled on 58 minutes when Maniche’s stupendous angled drive from the corner of the area flew into the top corner, but the Dutch were not quite beaten, Jorge Andrade diverting a Giovanni van Bronckhorst centre into his own goal. However, the hosts were still in the ascendant come the final whistle.

Reaction

The best goals of EURO 2004
The best goals of EURO 2004

Hélder Postiga, Portugal forward: "There were horses, bikes, boats and much more following our bus and showing their support [as we arrived at the stadium]. I will never forget this day, because it was intense in so many different ways."

Nuno Gomes, Portugal forward: "Some players in the squad are 19, others are 34, but there is a strong spirit in the dressing room, mostly because of the presence of Rui Costa, Figo and Fernando Couto. No one deserves to be in the final of EURO 2004 more than them and I am very happy for them all."

Pierre van Hooijdonk, Netherlands forward: "There's no doubt they were the better team and deserved to get through. I can live with the defeat, even though it's a big disappointment for us. They played better and we conceded two soft goals – from a corner and a short corner. If you make mistakes like that, you'll get punished against a quality team."

Elsewhere that night

There were no other matches that evening, with the other semi-final taking place in Porto the following night. Otto Rehhagel’s obdurate Greece once more upset the odds to overcome the Czech Republic 1-0, meaning that EURO 2004's final game would be a repeat of its opener.

Aftermath

Portugal national anthem: Watch Ronaldo and co in EURO 2004 final
Portugal national anthem: Watch Ronaldo and co in EURO 2004 final

Having put their curtain-raising loss to Greece down to nerves, Portugal were expected to eclipse Rehhagel’s side in the Lisbon decider, but instead suffered a 1-0 reverse, Angelos Charisteas’s first-half goal completing a EURO fairy tale. Portugal finally atoned for that setback when they won UEFA EURO 2016, outlasting highly-rated hosts France in the decider despite being without the injured Ronaldo for much of the game.

Defeat in the semi-finals marked the end of an era for the Oranje, the likes of Overmars, Jaap Stam and Frank de Boer all retiring from international football after the tournament. De Boer’s departure was particularly disappointing since he missed the Portugal match through injury. "It was a big blow for me that I couldn't play," he told UEFA.com.

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