Portugal ready for unlikely appearance by Drogba
Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz is taking all possible precautions and making sure his team is ready to deal with Didier Drogba, even though the Ivory Coast striker is unlikely to play in the teams’ World Cup opener on Tuesday.
Drogba would seem to have little chance of making the starting lineup after breaking his arm in a June 4 warmup match, but he has been receiving intensive treatment and has not been officially ruled out by Ivory Coast coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Drogba, who scored 37 goals for Chelsea this season to lead the club to the Premier League and FA Cup titles, is hoping to take to the field at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium wearing a special protective cast.
Such an outcome sounds far-fetched, but Queiroz is anxious not to be caught out by a surprise appearance.
"I’m not a doctor so I can’t say if Didier Drogba will be playing," Queiroz said Monday. "It is a fracture and the doctors, along with Mr. Eriksson, will have to decide.
"After 30 years of my life in soccer, there is nothing that surprises me. In terms of a player playing or not, nothing surprises me."
Drogba is Ivory Coast’s main hope for goals in a tough Group G that also contains five-time world champion Brazil and North Korea.
Portugal midfielder Deco knows how dangerous Drogba can be after playing alongside him for two years at Chelsea but still hopes to see his club mate on the field.
"I did not speak with Didier and I do not know if he will play," Deco said. "I hope so because he is a friend of mine. If he played, it would be good for the game."
Portugal has its own injury problems, with Manchester United winger Nani out of the match because of a shoulder problem.
It was originally thought that Nani would miss the entire tournament but he now hopes to have recovered sufficiently to rejoin the squad within four days.
"I don’t know what the doctor decided," Deco said. "What I heard is that he broke his shoulder and that it would be difficult for him to be able to play because the recuperation would be quite long.
"We speak to Nani and obviously any player that is left out feels a lot of frustration. He still hopes to be able to play."
Portugal only arrived in Port Elizabeth late Monday morning and the outfield players trained immediately, starting the hourlong session with some light ball work. The three goalkeepers trotted up and down the length of the field doing stretching exercises.
Cristiano Ronaldo trained with his teammates and will lead Portugal’s attack, aiming to end an eight-game run without a goal for the national side.
"We are hoping to see these goals coming," Deco said. "Everyone talks about him. It’s normal because he is the player that he is. It is important that he scores. They will help us to go through to the next phase."
Injuries were a problem for Ronaldo during qualifying, and he hasn’t scored for the national team since a 1-0 win over Finland in February 2009. He hit 26 goals for Real Madrid this season.
Ivory Coast is among Africa’s best hopes for a second-round berth, invigorated by the arrival of Eriksson, who took England to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002 and ’06.
Defender Kolo Toure said Eriksson has the Ivory Coast squad thinking more like a unit than a collection of individuals.
"Sometimes we, instead of thinking about the team, we are thinking about ourselves," Toure said. "I think Mr. Eriksson came and he just said to us, ‘If you want to be one of the best teams in this World Cup, we need to work together."’
In its World Cup debut four years ago, Ivory Coast opened with a 2-1 loss to two-time champion Argentina. It then lost by the same score to the Netherlands before rallying with a 3-2 win over Serbia and Montenegro, which restored some pride but was not enough to take it into the next round.
Aruna Dindane was its leading scorer with two of its five tournament goals and could again be the main man if Drogba is missing.