Tuesday brings with it perhaps the most eagerly anticipated fixture of the tournament to date. Côte D’Ivoire (or Ivory Coast) v Portugal is a match of immeasurable importance to both sides. With both teams drawn in Group G alongside Brazil, it is fair to suggest that only one of Côte D’Ivoire and Portugal will progress to the next round.
In the build up to this fixture most of the speculation pertained to the participation of Ivorian Didier Drogba, who sustained a fractured elbow in a World Cup friendly against Japan. Drogba, who captains the Elephants, and will play in today’s game. FIFA have ruled that the Chelsea striker is permitted to wear a protective cast against Portugal. Doubts will remain about Drogba’s mobility and fitness until kick-off.
Portugal’s hopes will be pinned to the shoulders of Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo, who impressed for Real Madrid this past season, failed to score a single goal in qualification. The sparsity of goals for Ronaldo is a genuine concern for the Portuguese who have failed to impress without the former Manchester United star at his best. Ronaldo himself has predicted that goals would flow like ‘ketchup from a bottle’ as soon as the first goal arrives.
In a difficult match to predict, the battle in midfield will be crucial. The Portuguese central-midfield duo of Deco and Pepe will be harried by Yaya Touré, Didier Zokora and Romaric. There is a possibility that Carlos Quieroz’s midfield, so important in providing ammunition to Cristiano Ronaldo, Liédson et al, will be overrun. The Ivorian midfield combines an undoubted physical presence but is also capable of splendid football as they release Gervinho and Kalou forward to imperil a stodgy Portuguese back four.
It is rare for an opening fixture at a World Cup to carry such weight and both sides will depend so much on the form of their star attractions, Drogba and Ronaldo respectively. Before the tournament this Ivorian side was hyped as the best African side yet assembled for a World Cup. Today’s clash at Port Elizabeth will tell us so much about whether the hype was justified.
Prediction: Côte d’Ivoire to notch a vital first win. 2-1 to the Elephants