Sun, Jun 25, 2006 - Page 23 News List

World Cup: Goals may dwindle in defense duel

FEW CHANCES Two of the stingiest defensive line-ups in Germany 2006 meet in the Round of 16, though Portugal has a psychological advantage based on earlier results

AP , NUREMBERG

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo plays with the ball during a training session at The Klosterpforte Hotel in Marienfeld on Friday.

PHOTO: AFP

Portugal and Netherlands conceded only one goal in going unbeaten in their group matches.

With two defenses like that, their second round match may be a low-scoring encounter in which a goal may make the difference.

Yet with Luis Figo and Deco on one side and Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie on the other, it's anybody's guess what will happen in today's game between the two European heavyweights.

If history is anything to go by, the odds favor Portugal.

"The Netherlands is a totally different team now, and this game is very different, too. It's a World Cup," said Portugal midfielder Maniche, who scored the winner against the Netherlands in the 2004 European Championships semi-finals.

"They know how we play and they'll be a big hurdle for us to get over," he said.

Portugal will probably field a lineup similar to the one that beat the Dutch 2-1 two years ago, while Dutch coach Marco van Basten has revamped his team since.

Portugal looks like it will be fully fit for the match, while only right back John Heitinga is in doubt for the Netherlands.

Deco trained on his own on Thursday to protect a sore ankle, but the FC Barcelona star should be declared fit today.

The 33-year-old Figo has turned back the clock in his performances so far in the competition and been instrumental in the good run.

"We feel sure we can get past the Netherlands in 90 minutes," Maniche said. "Even if it goes to extra time and penalties, we're in good shape to cope with that."

Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar represents his team's age and experience, and will become the most capped Dutch player with his 113th international appearance today, one more than 1990s defender Frank de Boer.

`CLOCKWORK ORANGE'

In front of him, van Basten has produced a balanced and solid team, working like a "clockwork orange" in defense despite a lack of international experience for some of the players.

But the coach's big doubt will be in attack, where he appears to have partly lost confidence in striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, who he has threatened to leave on the bench.

Both teams have been riding a run of good form and neither was beaten in World Cup qualification rounds.

The Netherlands' last loss was the defeat to Portugal in the Euro 2004 semi-final.

"I don't want to talk about revenge. It will just be a great game, which we will have to win," Robben said.

The winner of the game will play either England or Ecuador in the quarter-finals.

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