One of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka or Didier Drogba will leave the World Cup early as Portugal, Ivory Coast and Brazil all sit in the dreaded group of death alongside minnows North Korea. First up is Ivory Coast v Portugal on Tuesday, 15th June in a game which is easily the pick of the first round of matches.
Didier Drogba’s fractured arm in his side’s warm up game against Japan has left a dark cloud over the Ivory Coast camp. The Chelsea striker was said to have had a successful operation and rejoined the squad with the medical staff hopeful he will still be able to play some part of the tournament and he has not even been ruled out of the game against Portugal as it looks as though he will be given until the last moments to prove his fitness. If he is absent it would be a killer blow as he is simply irreplaceable. He is one of the world’s best strikers and his ability to bully defenders into submission is unparelled. If the Ivory Coast skipper did miss out then goal scoring duties would be left with Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou, who has had a very impressive last few months for his club and will hope to carry that form into the World Cup.
Manager Sven-Goran Eriksson does possess a world class performer in midfield in the guise of Barcelona’s Yaya Toure and although he has not enjoyed as much playing time with the Catalans as last season, where he was extraordinary, he is still a massive presence in midfield. Brother Kolo will lead the defence and his experience will be invaluable alongside full back Emmanuel Eboue who enjoyed a decent enough season with Arsenal. (Read more in the detailed Team Preview)
The Iberians have also not enjoyed much luck with injuries as Manchester United winger Nani was ruled out of the tournament after he suffered a collarbone injury in training. The injury was first not thought to be too serious but further tests revealed the worst and he has been replaced by Benfica midfielder Ruben Amorim. So even further pressure will be heaped on the shoulders of young Cristiano Ronaldo and the Real Madrid man will enjoy nothing more than carrying the hopes of a nation as no other player in world football craves the spotlight as much as he does. However, he has not enjoyed the best of times with the national team and is suffering a scoring drought after he failed to net during the qualifying campaign.
A shocking 0-0 draw with Cape Verde Islands in the pre-tournament friendlies resulted in an out burst from Ronaldo, citing he was feeling the pressure coming into the World Cup, and raising doubts about Portugal’s genuine competitiveness in a Group as tough as this.
Atletico Madrid winger Simao also needs to step up to the plate to take some of the heat off Ronaldo. In defence manager Carlos Queiroz can rely on the experienced duo of Bruno Alves and Chelsea’s Ricardo Carvalho and with Pepe recently returning from a long term injury the back line looks resonably solid. (Read more in the detailed Team Preview)
Road to the finals
A fairly comfortable campaign for the ‘Elephants’ as they secured qualification with a game to spare. They remained undefeated with Drogba showing his worth top scoring for his side with six goals. Equally impressive was their defensive record, with not a single goal conceded at home in 6 matches.
A less than sparkling campaign saw Portugal finish second behind group winners Denmark and had to qualify with a tense play off victory against Bosnia which they eventually won 2-0 on aggregate.
Ivory Coast (WDWLW)
15th January, Ghana, ACN (N), 3-1, Win
24th January, Algeria, ACN (N), 2-3, Loss
3rd March, South Korea, friendly (N), 2-0, Win
30th May, Paraguay, friendly (N), 2-2, Draw
4TH June, Japan, friendly (N), 2-0, Win
18th November, Bosnia, WCQ play off (A), 0-1, Win
3rd March, China, friendly (H), 2-0, Win
24TH May, Cape Verde Islands, friendly (H), 0-0, Draw
1st June, Cameroon, friendly (H), 3-1, Win
8th June, Mozambique, friendly (N), 3-0, Win
Didier Drogba – If he is fit, the whole complexion of the match changes as he is that important. Drogba has come off a brilliant season with Chelsea scoring 37 goals and is just as vital for his country. At his best he is unplayable – superb in the air, great with his back to goal, awesome free kick taker and a deadly finisher. His only weak point is that he can lose his cool if opposition defenders antagonise him, as proved in Chelsea’s game against Inter Milan when he got himself sent off for stamping on Thiago Motto following provocation.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Has everything in his locker to be the most complete footballer and will not have enjoyed having the limelight stolen from him by Lionel Messi. Electric pace, wonderful dribbling, a devastating eye for goal and a stupendous set piece specialist, he will want to retake the crown of world’s greatest footballer on the biggest stage.
Likely Line Ups
Ivory Coast (4-3-3) : Barry (GK), Demel, K.Toure, Eboue, Tiene, Y.Toure, Zokora, Tiote, Drogba, Kalou, Dindane.
This was the side that manager Eriksson started in the victory against Japan and although he himself is a 4-4-2 lover he may opt to go with three attackers but obviously so much depends on the fitness of the skipper Drogba. The central midfield pairing of Yaya Toure and Zakora looks strong and they will look to break up Portugal’s approach play. Eboue offers pace down the channels and Tiote is certainly one to watch after a fine season with Dutch champions FC Twente. But as always all roads lead to Drogba and they will be looking to get the ball to him in the danger areas as often as possible.
Portugal (4-3-3) : Eduardo (GK), Duda, Ferreira, Alves, Carvalho, Mendes, Deco, Meireles, Simao, Liedson, Ronaldo.
As previously stated most hopes lie with Ronaldo so it is essential the ageing midfield of Deco, Mendes and Meireles win the battle of possession in order to allow their captain to show off his skills and provide the ammunition for Liedson. The defence has a solid look about it with the manager perhaps electing to play Pepe if he thinks he is fit enough, otherwise the Real Madrid man will start from the bench.
So difficult to call as so much of Ivory Coast’s hopes rests on the fitness of Drogba, if he does not make it then Portugal start as marginal favourites but they themselves are an unpredictable side with Ronaldo able to win a game in an instant. The lightweight Portuguese midfield could be vulnerable against the power of Yaya Toure and Didier Zakora so that battle will be crucial. With all options considered a draw looks the most favourable result.
Predicted scoreline: Ivory Coast 1 – 1 Portugal
Group Preview: Group G Preview
File Photograph Copyright: Charles Nam
This article is the exclusive copyright of TheSportsCampus.com and permission to reproduce the same has not been granted.