Ivory Coast to win at 13-5 Seydou Doumbia to score at 4-1 (extrabet)
The African cause took a body blow yesterday after Japan made the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon look, well, toothless. The Ivory Coast can restore the continent's pride by pulling a minor surprise of their own today against Portugal in one of the most intriguing ties of the first round.
With Brazil a racing certainty and North Korea hard to fancy the second qualifying slot is between these two. Both managers will know that this game is likely to prove crucial – and if there is a winner they will probably secure qualification for the second phase.
Ivory Coast have several points against them – for a start the questions over the fitness of the talismanic Didier Drogba (below). To many his absence is even more damaging to the chances of Ivory Coast than the absence of Wayne Rooney from England.
The Africans have also hardly had a smooth build up to the tournament – the 3-1 victory against Ghana in the African Cup of Nations looks impressive but it was followed by a 3-2 defeat to Algeria. Warm-up matches were also a mixed bag.
But then, Portugal have also put in some unimpressive displays en-route to the finals, and there is always the suspicion that pouting prima donna Cristiano Ronaldo might not be quite as good in the dark red of his country as he is in the white of Real Madrid. And then there's all that intrigue surrounding Nani, who is ruled out after damaging his shoulder in practice but remains with the squad.
The Coast having Sven as manager might not be seen as much of a positive by England fans after the anaemic displays his teams produced. But, Saturday's performance by Fabio Capello's side was pretty anaemic too. And maybe the Swede feels he has a point to prove as an international manager.
Many experts are predicting a draw for this match (23-10 best price with Ladbrokes) given how closely the two sides are matched. But the 13-5 offered by Stan James on an Ivory Coast victory looks overpriced to me.
I'd also be willing to take a chance on young gun Seydou Doumbia to score at 4-1, if he plays, and with doubts continuing over Drogba he may get his chance if Sven goes against type and proves willing to be bold.