Portugal 2004: Day 10 – Bye-Bye Italy…

Tuesday 22nd June

Porto – Estadio Do Bessa – Sec XX1.

Denmark 2-2 Sweden – 26,115 – Tomasson 28, 66 / Larsson 47 (pen), Jonson 89.

Our last full day in Portugal was a really topsy-turvy affair. We had stayed up all the previous night, then spent the morning on an inter-city train heading north being intermittently woken by the ticket inspector, the onboard televisions playing satirical songs aimed at the English in Albufeira or bewildered locals looking for their reservations and discovering sweaty sleeping foreign bodies sprawled across their seats. We arrived back in Porto at 9.50 a.m. and within the hour had all crashed out in our hotel, a mere twenty six hours after we had left it.

We could have slept all day but our final game was very attractive. The Denmark vs. Sweden decider in the Bessa had all the makings of a classic. The mathematics of the group meant that a 2-2 draw would see both nations progress and eliminate the Italians regardless of what they achieved fifty kilometres up the road in Guimaraes against the hapless Bulgarians. The conspiracy theorists in Rome might have had a field day but we can honestly report that it was a splendid wholehearted derby played out in torrential rain – until the final ninety seconds…

We made our way to the Bessa via Francos metro station for the final time. Instead of sunshine the skies were grey and threatening but the atmosphere was still brilliant with the yellow of the Swedes slightly more in evidence than the red of the Danes. We were glad to get into the stadium proper in good time because the heavens then opened in spectacular style. It was humid, it was muggy, but the rain was still torrential and wet. We watched from out of the back of the stand as thousands of red and yellow figures queued to gain entry. The stream of fans coming in grew more and more wretched and bedraggled as kick-off approached. The authorities finally relented briefly and allowed a surge of supporters in round the back – they responded by urinating in huge numbers on an unfinished corner of the Bessa. The crush and chaos outside was turning serious.

We reluctantly took our seats moments before kick-off. Sitting at the front of the lower tier behind one goal the roof provided little or no protection from the deluge. I was clad in just my trusty Gills shirt and shorts and soaked to the skin within twenty minutes. Thankfully the English-style cup-tie between two Premiership-style teams (in English mid-winter weather) gripped the attention of everybody.

The Swedes were oddly out of sorts and it was the less fancied Danes who had much the better of things. The Swedes sitting around us gradually got more and more miffed, culminating in Tomasson’s stunning 25-yard lob sailing over a stranded Isaksson and into the net after twenty-eight rousing minutes. The Swedes hit back strongly creating a string of chances of their own, Sorensen saving twice and a Mellberg header crashing against the post. The only good news for the Swedes at half time was when Italy score was flashed up – they were losing 1-0.

We spent the break chatting to an Everton fan who had been dashing all over Portugal to catch various games for the previous fortnight – travelling huge distances by car due to his rather illogical ittinary (Guimaraes-Lisbon-Porto-Faro-Porto etc). He too had been at the Italy vs. Denmark game and had encountered problems with the Italians. His Everton flag hadn’t been stolen, but it had been torn down and ripped in half before he rescued it. We were all in agreement – we all sincerely hoped that the miserable Italians went home and the charming Scandinavian party animals stayed in town a little longer.

Sweden equalised two minutes into the second period via a Larsson penalty and moments later news of an Italian equaliser filtered through. The nerves of both sets of fans began to jangle with the knowledge that the safety net had been removed. The Danes re-took the lead on sixty-six minutes in fortuitous style, a spell of manic pin-ball in the box following a corner finally saw the ball fall to an unmarked Tomasson to turn into an unguarded net. We cheered a rare goal at our end but hoped that the Swedes could now reply thus securing the magical 2-2 scoreline.

That looked highly unlikely for much of the half as Denmark dominated and created a series of chances. They really should have put the game beyond doubt but Isaksson brilliantly saved Sand’s rocket shot amid an increasingly frantic tussle. There was no stitch-up job going on at that point. But with the game entering the final minute and everyone‘s thoughts turning to the result in Guimaraes Andy, a Prague-based Gills fan sitting next to me, expressed out loud what we as neutrals were all thinking. “Wouldn’t it be funny if Italy scored in the last minute, thought they were through and then Sweden equalised here” – thirty seconds later the Swedes were going loopy after Sorenson spilled a routine ball into the box from Wilhelmsson and Jonson gleefully belted home the rebound. 2-2 Italy out regardless. Up in Guimaraes Italy did score moments later but to no avail. Not quite the perfectly sick scenario, but funny enough for us.

The final minute and a half of injury time was surreal, the entire Swedish team in one half playing keep ball, the entire Danish team in the other content to stand watchfully on the halfway line with both sets of fans in uproar. The referee decided enough was enough and blew to signal the perfect result for everyone except the Italians. I thought of our missing Gills flag and smiled.

Any suspicious Italians won’t have been pacified by the two sets of players celebrating on the pitch and the fans off it. Despite the heavy precipitation the Ribeira was as lively as ever for our final night. We looked out from upstairs in our regular bar to see hundreds of Danes and Swedes dancing together in the rain – long yellow and red congas cut through between the tables and umbrellas, the song they were singing was in English “bye bye Italy” said it all – a satisfying end to a brilliant trip.


The Binman

One Response to Portugal 2004: Day 10 – Bye-Bye Italy…

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