Drogba and Ronaldo fire blanks as tempers fray

Ivory Coast 0 Portugal 0
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The Independent Online

The vuvuzelas blew hardest for a substitution but this match, while goalless, was not as bad as that suggests. It was no ordinary substitution. Didier Drogba, the most famous footballer in Africa, was coming onto the field.

Drogba's arrival even eclipsed Cristiano Ronaldo, who came closest to scoring when he hit the post from 25 yards, but was otherwise restrained, albeit by some tough tackles which angered him.

Drogba, who broke his arm 11 days prior and had to wear a protective cast, played 25 minutes. He understandably looked very rusty, having had to restrict his training since the incident, but said he now hopes to start the next match against Brazil. "I hope I will have those few days to improve my condition and look at the parts of my game I couldn't work on because I was at the hospital. But I'm confident."

Drogba admitted he thought his tournament was over when he fractured his arm in a friendly against Japan. "I was very disappointed but then the doctor said I could still have a chance. We did everything in our hands just to try the impossible and by the grace of God, the impossible has happened. It is amazing. The work the doctors have done is incredible. It's not easy to recover quickly from surgery and a broken bone and I'm just so, so grateful to be here and playing."

He added: "Playing was not a gamble. If I had fallen over I would have felt pain but I can cope with pain."

Portugal manager Carlos Queiroz was less happy that Drogba was allowed to play wearing a cast. "There are rules and regulations," he said. "Players can't play with a bracelet or a plaster, [but] then a player has something on his arm that could hurt the players." Noting that Drogba was "an African football star" he added: "I'd like to see if the rules are the same for everybody."

Queiroz also accused the Ivory Coast players of roughing up his team. "The Ivory Coast players are strong, but it was a game where they tried to impose their physical side. We are small and light players."

That did not stop the likes of Pedro Mendes from dishing out some punishment to the Ivorians but it was true that Ronaldo bore the brunt of the tackling. Yet he ended up being cautioned after reacting to a foul by Guy Demel which was not given. The pair squared up and were both booked.

"Sometimes it is difficult for me when referees give fouls because they think I dive," said Ronaldo. "The game is quick, but I don't understand decisions of the referees when they do these things. They should protect the more skillful players when they are getting fouled. One of their players fouled me and I got a yellow card. I don't understand it. When it is three against one, as it was, it is not fair to book me."

Referee Jorge Larrionda did book Didier Zokora, after just six minutes, for a foul on Ronaldo. The former Spurs player had been pressed into central defence by Sven Goran Eriksson in what ultimately proved a successful attempt to stop the basic errors which had bedevilled the side.

Only once did Ronaldo seriously threaten, in the 10th minute when he picked up possession nearly 30 yards out, bamboozled Barcelona's Yaya Touré, and unleashed a shot which flew past Boubacar Barry but struck the left-hand post. In response, Gervinho wriggled his way into a strong position only for Paulo Ferreira to hack clear. That, however, was the sum of the serious first-half goal action. Like so many games in this opening week the teams were too fearful of conceding to commit players forward. As soon as they lost possession they dropped back into their own halves.

Eriksson's England teams normally got worse after half-time, but it seemed he had given the Ivory Coast one of those rousing team-talks he never seemed to manage for England as they came storming out of the blocks after the break. Eduardo had to deny Gervinho, then Salomon Kalou nearly finished an Aruna Dindane cross before testing Eduardo. At the other end, Barry saved a Liedson header and Meireles shot wide from 20 yards. Ivory Coast finished the stronger but when Kader Keita put Drogba through in injury time he opted to pass, in the hope that Dindane was alongside, instead of shooting.

Eriksson said afterwards that coaching Ivory Coast was "more fun" than coaching England because the players "smile all day, on a bus, training, the restaurant. They are extremely happy and they talk a lot." With a point here, and Drogba restored to the team, they have something to smile about.

Ivory Coast (4-4-2): Barry; Demel, K Touré, Zokora, Tiéné; Tioté, Y Touré, Eboué (Romaric, 87); Gervinho (Keita, 82), Dindane, Kalou (Drogba, 65).

Portugal (4-2-3-1): Eduardo; Ferreira, Carvalho, Alves, Fabio Coentrao; Mendes, Raul Meireles (Ruben Amorim, 84); Ronaldo, Deco (Tiago, 61), Liedson, Danny (Simao, 55).

Referee J Larrionda (Uruguay).

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That was an excellent draw for us – it was definitely a point gained. It was a typical Ivory Coast performance full of heart, commitment and determination and the team did the country proud.

Tactically, we got everything right. Cristiano Ronaldo's shot taught us to close down the space given to Portugal's best players. We were lucky there – our goalkeeper was nowhere near it and it served as a wake-up call. From then on we defended superbly. Didier Zokora had a tough task to mark Ronaldo but he did it well, almost removing his threat. The fact that the great Deco did little and was substituted says it all. Our substitutions were clever, too. We were right to keep Didier Drogba on the bench at the start because he was a menace when he came on, as was Kader Keita. Both players forced Portugal to review their tactics. We took a big step towards qualifying and I believe that, if we play like this against Brazil, we will do well.

I took the afternoon off work to watch this match but I am happy to make the sacrifice for my country!

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