Monday, April 24, 2017

Portugal v. Ivory Coast

By: Jason Le Miere

In what was long anticipated as one of the games of the opening phase of this World Cup, Portugal and Ivory Coast produced a hugely disappointing 0-0 draw in Port Elizabeth this afternoon.

With Brazil also in what has been dubbed ‘the group of death,’ both teams knew that a defeat here would leave their chances of progressing to the next stage already hanging by a thread. And, sadly for the spectators, both teams played as if this was the primary thought in their minds.

Ivory Coast, in particular, employed an extremely cagey game plan in the opening half, sitting back and allowing Portugal to try and


Photo from fOTOGLIF

come up with something special to engineer a breakthrough. Unfortunately, Portuguese fans were left frustrated by their team’s lack of creativity, resulting in a drab 45 minutes.

With Cristiano Ronaldo in your side, though, there is always a chance of him producing something out of nothing. And this is exactly what he did in the 11th minute. Turning away from two players, the world’s most expensive player hit a spectacular curling, dipping shot from fully 35 yards out that crashed against Ivory Coast keeper Barry’s right-hand post. With so many players so far at this World Cup seemingly failing to adapt to the much criticized Jabulani ball, this was a wonderful effort that at that stage looked like sparking the much-hyped game into life.

This was to be the only incident of note in the first half, however, as the rest of Portugal’s supposedly creative players failed to live up to their roles. Deco, playing in his last tournament for Portugal, looked off the pace and already set for the international retirement home. Danny, as well, selected in place of the injured Nani, and in preference to Simao, was unable to replicate the pre-tournament form that had led to his selection. It was no surprise when both Deco and Danny were later replaced.

The second half threatened to spring into life early on, as both sides finally created some noteworthy chances. For Portugal, Deco produced his one telling contribution, lifting a cross into the area that, the otherwise non-existent, Liedson, struggling with the ball going behind him, could only head straight at Barry. Most of the positive action from the Ivory Coast came when the exciting Gervinho was on the ball. On a couple of occasions he used his trickery to turn past Portuguese defenders in the penalty box, before the danger was eventually sniffed out.

Other than Ronaldo’s shot, the highpoint for the crowd in attendance was seeing Ivory Coast’s star man, and arguably Africa’s star man, Didier Drogba come off the bench with 25 minutes remaining. And it was Drogba, still recovering from a broken bone in his arm, who had the last opening of the game, as he was played into the area, but, stretching for the ball, could only poke the goal across the box.

The negative game was summed up with its last action, as, with the seconds ticking away, Ivory Coast decided to play a corner short rather than crossing it into the area for one last potential effort on goal. The referee did everyone a favor when he immediately brought proceedings to a close.

Portugal now head to Cape Town, where a win is essential against North Korea next Monday. With Ivory Coast also likely to pick-up a win against the North Koreans, though, Portugal may still need a positive result in their closing Group G encounter with Brazil to secure progress, otherwise their fate could come down to goal difference.

For the moment, Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz’s main concern must be how to inject some creativity into his side to supplement Cristiano Ronaldo. Look for Simao to come in for Danny in their next game, but with no obvious replacement for Deco, it may be a case of simply hoping that the 32-year-old is still capable of producing the magic touches that can open up a defense.

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