By Stuart Condie
ABOVE PHOTO: Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba, left, and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo vie for the ball during the World Cup group G soccer match between Ivory Coast and Portugal at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Tuesday, June 15, 2010.
(AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa–Ivory Coast drew 0-0 with Portugal in the teams’ opening match of the World Cup on last Tuesday, largely outplaying its higher-ranked opponent despite Didier Drogba only coming on as a late substitute.
Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo hit the post early, but Ivory Coast otherwise created the better openings.
Drogba came on as a 66th-minute substitute for Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou after FIFA cleared him to play with a cast on the arm he broke in a warmup match against Japan on June 4.
He was only passed fit shortly before kickoff at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and his entrance was greeted by huge cheers, with vuvuzelas drowning out drumming by Ivorian fans for the first time in the match.
But Drogba had little impact on a defense that struggled to contain Lille striker Gervinho.
Still, Ivory Coast coach Sven-Goran Eriksson watched his striker move freely, largely untroubled by an injury that had threatened to prevent him from taking any part in the month long World Cup.
Ivory Coast picked up another injury problem late on when Kolo Toure went down clutching his leg and signaled to the bench for help.
The central defender had treatment behind the goal line for a couple of minutes and hobbled back into action but needed repeated treatment to his left knee with just minutes left.
Gervinho tormented right back Paulo Ferreira until his 82nd-minute replacement by Abdul Keita.
Ronaldo’s best chance came in the 11th minute with a swerving 30-meter (yard) shot that evaded goalkeeper Boubacar Barry but bounced off the left post.
Drogba, sitting among the substitutes, reacted to the near miss by blowing out his cheeks and drawing the sign of the cross across his shoulders.
Ronaldo had already shown the less attractive side of his game three minutes earlier when he won a free kick, pushing the ball past Didier Zokora and tumbling theatrically to the ground even though replays appeared to show there was no contact.
Zokora was booked.
Guy-Roland Demel then brought down Ronaldo with a sliding foul in the 21st and referee Jorge Larrionda booked both for squaring up to each other. Demel turned away without complaint but Ronaldo argued with the official, asking what he had done wrong.
Ivory Coast: Boubacar Barry, Kolo Toure, Didier Zokora, Salomon Kalou (Didier Drogba, 66), Cheick Tiote, Gervinho (Abdul Keita, 82), Aruna Dindane, Siaka Tiene, Yaya Toure, Guy-Roland Demel, Emmanuel Eboue (Koffi Romaric, 89).
Portugal: Eduardo, Bruno Alves, Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Pedro Mendes, Liedson, Danny (Simao Sabrosa, 55), Raul Meireles (Ruben Amorim, 85), Deco (Tiago, 62), Fabio Coentrao.