The Elephants meet the Seleccao in what promises to be one of the best fixtures in the opening round of matches.
Kick Off: Tuesday, June 15, 2010. 16:00 CET
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Group G of World Cup 2010, better known as the ‘Group of Death’, kicks off with a fascinating fixture between Cote d’Ivoire and Portugal, the two sides expected to battle it out for the right to qualify in second place behind Brazil.
The Castrol World Cup predictor has this battle down to be probably the closest in the tournament. While Ivory Coast are given a 51.1 per cent chance of progression, they are bettered marginally by Portugal’s 51.7 per cent chance.
On African soil, the Elephants have a great incentive to excel, though their build-up to the competition has been dogged by the ‘will-he-won’t-he’ saga of star forward Didier Drogba. Injured in a warm-up clash against Japan, the Chelsea striker was initially ruled out of the competition, but that initial fear seems to have been something of an overreaction.
Drawing a pool of players from many of Europe’s strongest leagues, the Ivorians are certainly not a team to be dismissed, but without Drogba’s cutting edge they are definitely a little more restricted. No other Elephant can match the scoring power of the 32-year-old, with Aruna Dindane’s 16 goals in 55 internationals a rather uninspiring tally.
Still, Cote d’Ivoire, who are competing in just their second World Cup, have never been shut-out in the Finals previously, and they are hoping that if they can maintain that proud record, a first berth in the knockout round may be theirs.
Are Wins Like Ketchup?
Portugal’s ‘Golden Generation’ may be a thing of the past, but there are still hopes that Carlos Queiroz’s present vintage can go deep into the World Cup, inspired largely by the presence of the world’s most expensive player, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Preparations for the tournament haven’t always gone smoothly. The Seleccao were unconvincing as they defeated China 2-0 at home in March, while a scoreless draw against Cape Verde in May did little to fire the hopes of the public.
June has brought with it a rise in the team’s fortunes; a 3-1 success against Cameroon was followed by a 3-0 victory over Mozambique. Though the Portuguese finished strongly in the latter of these encounters, a fringe squad had been unimpressive for significant spells of the match early on, with the Mambas having the better chances of the first half.
Friendlies, of course, count for nothing now the competition has started, though doubts over Portugal’s scoring ability remains. Ronaldo has toiled for international goals of late, and has gone over a year without registering for his national side, though he is not concerned. “Goals are like ketchup; when they come, they come all at once,” he told the press, confident of scoring in South Africa.
‘CR9’ will hope that wins are like ketchup, and that Tuesday’s match is simply the first step to world glory.
WON 2-0 (n) Japan (Friendly, June 4)
DREW 2-2 (n) Paraguay (Friendly, May 30)
LOST 2-0 (n) South Korea (Friendly, March 3)
LOST 3-2 (n) Algeria (Africa Cup of Nations, January 24)
WON 3-1 (n) Ghana (Africa Cup of Nations, January 15)
WON 3-0 (n) Mozambique (Friendly, June 8)
WON 3-1 (h) Cameroon (Friendly, June 1)
DREW 0-0 (h) Cape Verde (Friendly, May 25)
WON 2-0 (h) China (Friendly, March 3)
WON 1-0 (a) Bosnia and Herzegovina (World Cup playoff, November 18)
Didier Drogba has not yet been declared forfeit from this match, though coach Sven Goran Eriksson has confirmed that he is drawing up a ‘Plan B’ in case his star man isn’t ready to play. Drogba, however, will be given every chance such is the importance of this match to Cote d’Ivoire.
Probable Starting XI: Barry; K. Toure, Eboue, Boka, Tiene; Y. Toure, Zokora; Gervinho, Romaric, Tiote; Drogba
Nani has claimed he could be fit by next week but has been sent back to Portugal because of his injury complaint, sparking rumours that there may have been another underlying reason for his return to Europe.
Winger Simao has been suffering from exhaustion but should be fit to start on the left flank, with Cristiano Ronaldo on the right.
Hugo Almeida struck twice against Mozambique, potentially earning himself a start against Cote d’Ivoire.
Probable Starting XI: Eduardo; Miguel, Carvalho, Alves, Duda; Meireles, Veloso; Simao, Deco, Ronaldo; Almeida
PLAYERS TO WATCH
If Didier Drogba does miss out, the focus on the Ivorian midfield will be intense. If Didier Drogba plays, the focus may be a little off the midfield, but it will still be essential that the unit performs strongly. Yaya Toure will have a huge role to play in the engine room as it will be his job to break up play and prevent the Portuguese from dominating. Alongside Didier Zokora and potentially Romaric, the Africans are well equipped to win this battle.
During the Seleccao’s recent friendly against Cameroon – a fixture designed to prepare the team for this very challenge – Porto’s Raul Meireles was the outstanding player on the Portuguese side. The midfielder bagged two goals in that game, but against a more competitive side, he will have to raise his game another level. If he can help Portugal win the midfield battle, three points could be going the way of Carlos Queiroz’s side.
Though Portugal have not always been at their best in the warm-up games, they are favourites to start the tournament with a win over an Ivory Coast side who are liable to be shorn of their best player. Cote d’Ivoire are more than just Didier Drogba and should prove to be strong opponents. If Portugal lack cutting edge, they may be punished.
Portugal 1-1 Cote d’Ivoire
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