The much anticipated match between Côte d’Ivoire and Portugal failed to live up to expectations as it ended up more of a damp squib on a rainy evening in Port Elizabeth. The draw potentially creates a group dynamic where both Côte d’Ivoire and Portugal may have to score as many goals as possible against the People’s Republic of Korea should neither of them succeed in beating a highly rated Brazil side.
Didier Drogba was left on the bench by Sven Goran Eriksson, whose team failed to score despite perhaps being the better side. Portugal seemed to continue the form that saw them miss out on an automatic qualification spot. Côte d’Ivoire did most of the early running in what was building up into a tense encounter. A Cristiano Ronaldo dive deceived the match official and Didier Zokora of Sevilla was booked as a result. A similar incident followed later in the half. Ronaldo went down again, albeit this time legitimately, but this time the Portuguese was booked after getting involved in some verbal jousting with his tackler Demel.
Despite his petulant antics, if Portugal were to sparkle on the world stage then Ronaldo would be the catalyst. The Real Madrid superstar nearly scored what would have been one of the greatest goals in the competition’s illustrious history. He received the ball some thirty-five yards away from goal and quickly evaded Demel with a turn reminiscent of Johann Cruyff’s best efforts. He then unleashed a swerving piledriver which shook the frame of the goal as his effort cannoned off the left post. The scintillating strike was to be the best chance of the match for Portugal, and perhaps Ronaldo’s only meaningful contribution to the match. Didier Drogba blessed himself in thanks as the goalpost continued to shake seconds after the attempt.
Gervinho was proving to be the Elephants most formidable attacking threat in the absence of their captain. He tormented Chelsea fullback Paulo Ferreira and was involved in most everything that the Ivorians created in the first half. Gervinho continued to pose problems in the second half, forcing a save from the Portuguese goalkeeper Eduardo.
By now the Elephants were established as the better side in this floundering contest which was not living up to the billing it had received in the months leading up to the tournament. The Ivorians however were the only side showing any attacking intent. They were content to leave Kolo Touré and Demel to sit in front of the back four while Yaya Touré joined in the attempts to take the game to the side that finished fourth in Germany in 2006.
For all of their encroachments into the Portugeuse final third the Côte d’Ivoire lacked a potent force to challenge the Portuguese centre-back partnership of Bruno Alves and Ricardo Carvalho. Excitement reverberated around the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium as Didier Drogba readied himself for his introduction in the place of his Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou.
The Côte d’Ivoire pressurised the Portuguese in the final minutes in search of what might have proved to be a vital goal in the quest to reach the last 16. Drogba himself had the chance to further his iconic status as he found himself through on goal in the last minute. Unfortunately for the former African Player of the Year, the pass from Kader Keita was just beyond his reach and his attempt at a stretch was uncontrollable.
The draw serves neither side particularly well. It is conceivable that both sides may lose to Brazil leaving a race for goals against North Korea as the method for qualification from the group. Portugal, on today’s evidence at least, will struggle to threaten Brazil’s solid defensive axis. Côte d’Ivoire should improve with Didier Drogba in his regular starring role. Both teams should be able to catch a glimpse of what Brazil are capable of this evening as the Seleçâo take on the group’s outsiders, Korea DPR.