Portugal-Ivory Coast Preview

Upon qualifying, Portugal and the Ivory Coast were seen as

contenders to go deep into this World Cup. Being drawn into the

same group with the most decorated World Cup team may cost one of

them that chance.

Injuries aren’t helping, either.

Portugal and the Ivory Coast meet for the first time in one of

the most anticipated matches of this tournament Tuesday in Port

Elizabeth.

Portugal needed to beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-0 on aggregate

in a playoff to reach a third consecutive World Cup, while the

Ivory Coast cruised to a second consecutive appearance by topping

its group with a 5-0-1 record.

With the teams featuring two of the best players in the world in

Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba, third-ranked Portugal and the

No. 27 Les Elephants were expected to reach the later stages of the

World Cup and perhaps win it.

Those hopes were dented when the teams were drawn into Group G

with five-time champion Brazil and North Korea.

The Ivory Coast was in a similar situation four years ago,

failing to advance from a difficult group that included Argentina,

the Netherlands and Serbia and Montenegro.

A broken arm to Drogba, the national team’s all-time leader with

44 goals in 67 games, is posing a bigger problem this time.

The forward, who led England’s Premier League with 29 goals for

champion Chelsea last season, was injured in a collision with a

Japan defender early in a 2-0 victory June 4.

“Even if he’s not playing with us every time, he’s the captain

and he leads the team very, very well,” midfielder Didier Zokora

said of Drogba, who is wearing a cast during training.

Injuries were a problem for Ronaldo during qualifying, as he

played in seven of Portugal’s 12 matches while failing to score.

The midfield playmaker hasn’t scored for the national team since a

1-0 win over Finland in February 2009, but he netted 26 goals for

Real Madrid this season.

With winger Nani out of the World Cup due to a bruised

collarbone, Portugal may need the 2008 FIFA World Player of the

Year more than ever if it is going to live up to the expectations

of a title contender.

Ronaldo had one goal in the 2006 Cup as Portugal fell 1-0 to

France in the semifinals.

Coach Carlos Queiroz has tried to ease the tension surrounding

Ronaldo’s goalscoring difficulties. When asked about it he replied,

“Leave them kids alone. The more you leave the players in peace the

more they’ll score.”

Strong play from Deco in the midfield could also help Ronaldo

replicate his club success for the national team. The Brazil-born

playmaker has five goals in 74 games for Portugal and is expected

to start in a supporting role to Ronaldo.

Deco, a teammate of Drogba’s at Chelsea, had one goal in the

last World Cup. He has announced his retirement from the national

team at the end of this tournament.