Nothing decided in Group of Death
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba, left, heads the ball away from Portugal's Ricardo Carvalho during World Cup action at Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in Port Elizabeth. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)
PORT ELIZABETH – A game that was supposed to decide who was going to move into the second round settled absolutely nothing.
Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best players in the world, showed nothing.
Ivory Coast and Portugal, hoping to ease the pressure of playing in the Group of Death, played to a 0-0 draw Tuesday, leaving everything up in the air.
This was a big game even though it was the first game of the group stage for both teams.
The shadow of Brazil is hovering over everyone else in the group. Most believed the winner of this game would join Brazil in the next round.
It doesn’t look as though Brazil, one of the pre-tournament favourites, has much to fear.
Except for a few brief sparks, Portugal was dreadful.
The Ivory Coast started brightly and then fell into the slow pace Portugal was happy to play. To their credit, though, the Ivory Coast came out in the second half and showed an interest in winning.
The African team was favoured going into the World Cup simply because Portugal had played so badly in qualifying for the event. But things evened up when striker Didier Drogba went out with a broken arm during a pre-World Cup friendly against Japan.
The big question before the game was whether Drogba could go. News came before kickoff that he had been cleared to play with a special cast on his broken arm.
Elephants coach Sven Goran Eriksson wanted to keep everyone in doubt as long as possible but when the starting 11 came out, Drogba was on the bench. His replacement played well but didn't have the finishing skill of the big striker.
Drogba came on in the 65th minute for Salomon Kalou. But it was obvious he wasn't 100%.
"But when a player like Drogba wants to play, you let him play," said Eriksson.
The other bubbling point of debate was whether the other star in the game, Ronaldo, would show any interest in the event.
It started well for him. He almost scored in the first 10 minutes when he rocketed a 35-yard shot off the post.
But then he did the second best thing Ronaldo does – dive. The second time he did it Elephants defender Guy Demel took exception and got in Ronaldo's face. The two exchanged words and a bump. Referee Jorge Larrionda of Uruguay booked them both.
It was at that moment Ronaldo disappeared.
Was he sulking? Did he lose his desire to play? Was he dissatisfied teammates like Deco couldn’t do anything to help?
Who knows? But for most of the rest of the game, Ronaldo drifted to the wide side of the field, seeing very few balls. He looked like the kid no one wanted to play with.
He was horribly disappointing.
Ronaldo hasn't scored for Portugal in 16 months.
The way Portugal played it may go another 16 months before they score again.
"There was only one team trying to win and build up the attack," Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz said. "But attacking was impossible with 11 players in front of us."
He didn't mention which team wanted to attack.
At the end, it was the Ivory Coast who had Portugal hanging on for dear life.
"To draw against the No. 3 team in the world, it was amazing, you have to be proud," Drogba said. "We have to be satisfied with this result because we only have a short history in the World Cup."
Eriksson was pleased with the point.
"It was a good game technically," he said. "Both teams didn't want to lose a game like this."
Wouldn't it be terrific if, for once, a soccer coach said "both teams really wanted to win this game."
Heck, it would be nice if soccer players realized people traveled countless miles and spent thousands of dollars, pesos, francs, euros or whatever other currency they use to watch them play on the world’s biggest stage.
It would make for a much better spectacle.