(Tuesday, June 15th)
Final Score: Ivory Coast 0, Portugal 0
Port Elizabeth, South Africa (Sports Network) - Ivory Coast and Portugal battled to a 0-0 draw to open Group G play in FIFA World Cup action at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Tuesday.
The group, which also features Brazil and North Korea, had been dubbed the "Group of Death" because of the strength of the top three clubs, but the opener failed to live up to its billing.
"We knew that they wouldn't pour forward looking to attack from the start," Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo said. "They were afraid of us in the first half and then opened things up a little in the second, but I think we reacted well. If we didn't win, it's only because we were unlucky. We haven't lost our margin for error with this draw; everything remains open in the group. We just need to continue the good work we've been doing up until now."
The game was to be a match up between two of the world's top offensive players in Ronaldo and Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba, but the two superstars only found themselves on the pitch together for the final 34 minutes of the match after Drogba started the game on the bench.
Drogba, who broke his arm on June 4 in a World Cup warm-up vs. Japan, was only cleared to play in the game by FIFA about an hour before the match after it ruled the soft cast he had on his arm wasn't dangerous to other players.
With Drogba on the bench, and playing at less than full strength when he was on the pitch, the Elephants lost out on the 37 goals he scored for Chelsea this season to lead the club to the Premier League and FA Cup titles. Drogba also scored six goals for Ivory Coast in World Cup qualifying.
"I'm happy today. We were able to take a point against a Portugal side that was very dangerous, but we showed that we can play some good football and we can now concentrate on the match against Brazil," Drogba said. "Physically, I wasn't at all apprehensive about this moment and going out on to the pitch. If I'd really had even the slightest doubt, I never would have asked to be on the bench. I wouldn't have taken the risk. The decision to go on as a substitute was taken yesterday evening after discussions with the coach."
Ronaldo showed his class when he had the game's first legitimate chance. The Real Madrid attacker launched a rocket from about 35 yards that deflected off the Ivory Coast post to the right of goalkeeper Boubacar Barry.
Ivory Coast midfielder Cheick Ismael Tiote took a pass from Salomon Kalou at the top of the Portugal 18-yard box, but his shot went well over the bar in the 16th minute.
The game picked up in intensity around the 20th minute when Ivory Coast defender Guy Demel stood nose-to-nose with Ronaldo after the Real Madrid striker took exception to a hard tackle. Both players were booked after the exchange.
The tackle was no doubt a response by Demel to Ronaldo's obvious flop 10 minutes earlier that earned teammate Didier Zokora a yellow.
Things slowed considerably after that point, however, with a hopeful Kalou drive into the Portuguese area being closed down by the defense about five minutes before the interval being the only other threat.
The deadlocked first half was the first for Ivory Coast in World Cup play.
Ivory Coast had a couple chances in the opening minutes of the second half, but neither came to fruition.
Portugal's Liedson had a header on goal in the 58th minute, but the looping ball was easily snapped up by Barry. The chance was just Portugal's third touch in the Ivory Coast box through an hour.
Gervinho's header after a cross from the left was headed high from about eight yards before Drogba came on in the 66th minute for Kalou.
Portugal had another opportunity in the 78th minute when Raul Meireles fired a hopeful shot well wide from about 30 yards.
Drogba's only chance of the game came in stoppage time when Abdul Kader Keita slipped a through-ball to the top of the six, but Drogba sent the chance well wide.
The scoreless draw is the second in 20 World Cup matches for Portugal, which also had the most clean sheets in European qualifying.
06/15 16:27:06 ET