Ivory Coast and Portugal played out a tense goalless encounter in Group G this afternoon, void of creativity and goalscoring opportunities but as always, plenty of Talking Points…
Jubulani v Ronaldo
In the opening minutes of the game we witnessed the best and worst of Cristiano Ronaldo. First, a blatant dive from about forty yards out before smacking the resulting free-kick off the wall, and then a moment of sheer brilliance – and one of the first in the tournament so far. Few have tamed the Jubulani so far in the competition, however – even according to Adidas’ design team – it is a football perfectly suited to someone of the quality and striking ability of Ronaldo. A quick turn, a sudden transition onto his favoured right foot and “bang”, a superb strike left goalkeeper Barry helpless, only to be saved by the woodwork. Having not netted a goal in qualifying, Ronaldo is going through a major international drought that the Portuguese will be hoping will come to an end very soon. Unfortunately, he’ll have to wait until the North Korea game where his odds of netting will be greatly increased.
Organised, efficient, disciplined…
… the polar opposite of what the Ivory Coast displayed last Winter at the African Cup of Nations where they lost in the knockout stage after a less then impressive group stage which was aided by the lack of participation of Togo. Cue Sven Goran Eriksson. Not many expected the Swedish coach to be managing many more World Cup sides after England’s 2006 campaign, and lost what was seen as his closest chance to making the trip to South Africa when he was sacked by Mexico. A lifesaver by Ivory Coast just over seventy days ago, and likewise by Sven as he has instilled a much needed sense of organisation and efficiency in the side. The White Elephants completed controlled the play, especially in the first half, working hard when without the ball and knocking on a tough Portuguese defence when in possession. The second half was much more successful in an attacking sense, as they managed to create a couple of chances but lacked in the finishing department.
Portugal – unsuccessful new set up
That’s always a talking point, right? Carlos Queiroz was lambasted for playing Ronaldo out on the left, leaving Liedson up front on his own and having Nani play on the right hand side. It didn’t suit Ronaldo, nor did it suit Portugal. Today Ronaldo on the right of a front three with Liedson up front, and still deprived of any ball, and Danny on the left. Ronaldo could enjoy spending much more time in his opponents half as Meireles, Deco and Pedro Mendes stayed back in midfield. All three worked hard, but none managed to get a foothold on the game as Pedro seemed particularly absent while Deco was far from up to scratch.
Ivory Coast: Flexible, organsised and promising
Ivory Coast played a similar line-up, however their front three showed much more flexibility then Portugal’s with the intertwining of Dindane, Kalou and the very impressive Gervinho. Drogba was always going to be a huge miss, but Gervinho acquitted himself superbly when in a central role while Dindane and Kalou where both threats out wide. In midfield were Yaya Toure, who held behind mostly and kept a good eye on Ronaldo, sliding in with some fantastic tackles. He was joined by Eboue who worked extremely hard and roamed around a lot, and Tiote who shared a slice of the holding role. As a unit they were superb, well in tune with each other and extremely efficient and organised.
Liedson, Portugal’s only hope of scoring goals with Ronaldo suffering a severe drought, was again deprived of possession and good quality opportunities up front. With a team that boasts creative qualities of Ronaldo, Deco and Danny, Portugal failed miserably in trying to muster up a good scoring opportunity. The one time Liedson did get the ball was from Ferreira, he controlled well just inside the D but Ivory Coast were quick to snuff out any trouble. It’s easy to take attention away from your sole striker when a player like Ronaldo is behind him, but Portugal need to start playing further forward and start bringing him into the game. Any good chances in the box and nine times out of ten he’ll score.
Will goal difference have to settle second?
Assuming Brazil do as expected and beat both Portugal and Ivory Coast, the second spot in Group G many be settled on the sides’ goal difference against whipping boys North Korea. On evidence of this afternoon, it is hard to see Portugal becoming more creative and potent in attack when they face Korea next week. Ivory Coast, although they left it late, may have enough in their locker – plus Drogba, who will start – to score more against North Korea.