Didier Drogba, widely derided in England for falling over at the slightest touch, will attempt to play today with his broken arm encased in a cast. The Ivory Coast captain and talisman fractured the limb playing against Japan 11 days ago and underwent surgery the following day.
Sven Goran Eriksson, the Ivory Coast coach, said last night the team would seek permission from Jorge Larrionda, the Uruguayan referee, for Drogba to play wearing a lightweight protective cast. Drogba has iconic status within Africa, and by extension at this World Cup. Larrionda would be very brave and, if he wants to officiate again in the tournament, probably very foolish, to say no. Then the decision will be up to the player. "We will make a decision after lunch, maybe two hours before the game," said Eriksson. "We obviously hope Didier is going to play but I don't know. He is the only one who can make the decision."
It is understood Drogba, who trained in the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium with his team-mates last night, intends to play. Such is his importance, to his team, country and continent, it will be almost impossible for Eriksson to say no.
Carlos Queiroz, the Portuguese coach, is preparing to face Drogba. "After 30 years nothing surprises me in football, so it would not surprise me if Drogba played," he said yesterday.
Portugal have no concerns over the fitness of their stellar name, Cristiano Ronaldo, just his goalscoring. The galactico has not scored for his country since February last year. "It is important that he scores as those goals would help us progress but we are not concerned who scores," said his team-mate Deco.
"Cristiano is looking good," said Queiroz, "as captain and international icon he is ready." In deference to the coaching mantra that all players are equal, Queiroz added: "All the players are ready. It's time to play. The players want to show what they are capable of. Our spirit is good, we have a wonderful, well-organised team, we will make our supporters proud."
This may be "Africa's World Cup" but the Portuguese will be well supported, there being a large Portuguese-descended population in South Africa.
Eriksson has only been coach of Ivory Coast for 11 weeks, most of them without access to the players. It is nowhere near long enough to develop a pattern of play. "It is a short time, but I am confident," he said. "The players have been working very hard and we are ready for the match. All Eriksson can really do is instil a sense of calm, which is one of his strengths, and a rudimentary framework. He has talent at his disposal, especially going forward, with the Touré brothers, Kolo and Yaya, providing the basis for a strong spine. But there is a lack of depth and doubts about diminutive goalkeeper Boubacar Barry.
At least it won't end in penalties
That is one consolation for Eriksson as he prepares to face Portugal for the third tournament in succession. At Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006, his England team went out to the Portuguese in the spot-kick lottery after drawing. Eriksson would be very happy to draw again. That would secure a point and put the African nation in with a shout of qualifying from a group which also includes the extreme contrasts of Brazil and North Korea. "People call this the group of death. With respect to North Korea, there are three teams playing for two places," said Queiroz.Reuse content