Figo stands tall to earn Portugal last-gasp draw

 

The front page of Portugal's leading sports paper carried the image of a squashed orange yesterday morning. But after 90 minutes last night it seemed decidedly inappropriate. The men in orange were solid and round. Holland were winning 2-1, about to inflict Portugal's first home defeat in a World Cup qualifier for eight years. Juicy. Then in injury time, one last Portuguese punt. They won a penalty. The most expensive footballer in the world, Luis Figo, stood up and took it. Portugal had a priceless equaliser.

Holland's pips squeaked, Porto exploded. Figo took of his shirt and was booked. The noise was deafening. The adrenalin was steaming. The final whistle went. My mother never told me there'd be nights like this.

It felt like the Dutch had lost.

They did not deserve to, especially Patrick Kluivert, scorer of the second Holland goal in the 47th minute and superb the whole night. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had given the Netherlands the lead in the 18th minute and Kluivert's second seemed to have ended the rainy night.

Holland were cosy. Then Pedro Pauleta struck an 83rd minute volley and as Van Gaal said after: "I always knew it would be difficult to hang on after that. I knew that if a player was to stumble in the 18-yard box then it would be a penalty." His fear was justified.

As early as the fourth minute Kluivert had demonstrated his close control and vision with a pass that had Marc Overmars scampering away down the left wing. Seven minutes later, Carlos Secretario was left flailing in the wind and as he entered the box unmarked Overmars should have done better. Quim saved his first effort and the rebound.

Portugal had been warned. Yet they remained loose at the back and seemed sure that the marvellous skills of Figo and Rui Costa would get them back in the game quickly. Rui Costa did embark on the first of two thrilling first-half slaloms, the first leaving Davids looking like an amateur. But on neither occasion did Portugal truly threaten.

Instead the Dutch sat back comfortably and let their passing do the talking. It was eloquent stuff, particularly the long pass from De Boer. With the simplest of jinks Hasselbaink spun away from his supposed marker Litos, broke into the area and got his toe to the ball a fraction before Quim. The keeper brought down Hasselbaink and earned a yellow card for his foul. Hasselbaink took the penalty himself, smacking the left upright and enduring some anxiety before the ball hit the opposite side-netting.

Having played for the team across town, Boavista, Hasselbaink celebrated enthusiastically by diving into the Portugal net. It was Holland's only frivolous moment.

They went straight back to work and Hasselbaink could have added a second in the 33rd minute following another clever touch from Kluivert. It says something of the relative disarray of the Portuguese that manager Antonio Oliveira made a tactical substitution three minutes later, withdrawing Paulo Bento for local boy Capucho.

That meant none at half-time, though when Kluivert scored Holland's second within two minutes of the restart Oliveira may have wished he had reinforced his defence. Overmars once again left Secretario staring and the Barcelona winger then ran around Costinho and sent in a low cross from the byline. It was behind everybody except Kluivert who met it with total authority even though it was on his weaker left side. Quim stood motionless as the ball sped past him.

Had Fernando Couto kept his seven-yard volley down soon after then the contest would have altered. But Couto, free and on the end of a Litos header, struck his chance over the crossbar.

More than half an hour of fairly uneventful then ensued during which Davids staged a masterclass in the art of midfield defending before the night suddenly burst into life again. Pauleta started it all with a volley on the run from Capucho's centre. Edwin van der Saar got a hand on the ball but could not stop it from hitting the bottom corner.

The sodden fans were now making the sort of noise they had been before kick-off. Yet it was the Dutch who came again, Kluivert rocking Quim with a fierce header and then Overmars making Quim dive to save a volley.

Nevertheless, it felt like it was Portugal who had the momentum. Sure enough, into the dying seconds and a last charge. A centre from Capucho, a jump from Pauleta, a surge from De Boer - penalty. The stadium erupted. Figo did not. The ball hit the back of the net. The men in orange had been crushed.

PORTUGAL: Quim, Secretario, Jorge, Litos, Couto, Bento (Capucho 34), Figo, Costinha, Pauleta, Rui Costa, Sergio Conceicao (Nuno Gomes 58). Subs Not Used: Ricardo, Nelson, Meira, Barbosa, Pinto. Booked: Quim, Litos. Goals: Pauleta 85, Figo 90 pen.

NETHERLANDS: Van der Sar, Reiziger, Stam, Frank de Boer, Cocu, Van Bommel (Bosvelt 69), Zenden (Makaay 73), Davids, Kluivert, Hasselbaink (van Hooijdonk 80), Overmars. Subs Not Used: Paauwe, van Hintum, Westerveld, Sikora. Booked: Stam, Cocu, Davids, Van Bommel, Reiziger. Goals: Hasselbaink 17 pen, Kluivert 49.

Referee: U Meier (Switzerland).