Drogba gives Africa hope of breakthrough
JOHANNESBURG // If Ivory Coast are to prevent Brazil from becoming the first team to qualify for the second round at this month's World Cup, they will have to achieve something no other African side has managed on the global stage: stop the Selecao from leaving with three points.
In each of Brazil's five previous World Cup encounters with African sides, the South Americans emerged victorious. But more impressively, and somewhat ominously for Elephants supporters, the Brazilians have never conceded a goal to an African team in the World Cup. From Zaire in 1974 to Ghana in 2006, the five-time champions have scored 12 goals against African sides and will be planning to add to that figure tonight at Ellis Park.
Fortunately for Africa fans, desperate for their sides to succeed on home soil, few of the five previous sides possessed a weapon as deadly as Didier Drogba. The Chelsea forward, winner of the English Premier League's Golden Boot award after netting 29 goals, is expected to return to the starting line-up for the Ivory Coast this evening, with Gervinho, the young striker, likely making way. Drogba, who suffered a fractured elbow in a match with Japan a week before the World Cup, was a major doubt for Sven-Goran Eriksson's squad.
However, after receiving clearance from Fifa he was allowed to play with a protective cast on his arm and managed 25 minutes in the Elephants' scoreless stalemate with Portugal. Brazil are refusing to dwell too much on the return of the opposition's star striker. Dunga, the coach, has selected a trio of Inter Milan players - right-back Maicon, centre-half Lucio and goalkeeper Julio Cesar - in defence.
Julio Cesar expressed no concern over the return of Drogba, a man Inter faced last season when the Italian side beat Chelsea in the last 16 on their way to winning the European Champions League. "Drogba didn't do much in the first leg because Lucio had a marvellous game and practically marked him out of it," said Julio Cesar. "In the second leg he also did not have many opportunities and he was sent off in the end.
"[But] he shoots well and heads well and he has a special way of hitting the ball, so you have to pay special attention." Eriksson, who coached a 25-year-old Dunga while in Italy in the late 1980s, said he is well aware of the challenge his side face in becoming the first African side to score against Brazil. "I know the manager very well," Eriksson said of Brazil's 1994 World Cup-winning captain. "I brought him to Fiorentina and had him there for a year. Even as a player, he knew tactically everything about football. He's one of the best footballers I ever had. He was fantastic, defending, attacking, he knew exactly everything.
"I'm not surprised that they are extremely well-organised; it's not easy to score against them." Eriksson must find a way to score against a solid backline, while also stifling an attack that boasts Luis Fabiano, Robinho and Kaka. North Korea, in their 2-1 defeat to Brazil last week, played with a five-man defence, but Julio Baptista, Brazil's Roma midfielder, is hoping the Africans refrain from playing reclusively.
"It's always more difficult when the other team plays with 10 at the back. But I think Ivory Coast will come out and try and play," he said. "This will be our most difficult game because of the way the Ivory Coast play their football. "The Ivory Coast players are physically strong and most of them play their club football in Europe and know our style of play. We also know most of them, but we will watch videos of their matches and see what our coach prepares for us."
Robinho v Kolo Toure Teammates at Manchester City, Robinho and Toure, will be familiar with each other's strengths and weaknesses. Robinho, below, was the sole creative spark in Brazil's lacklustre 2-1 win over North Korea. He has not had the best of spells and spent the end of last season on loan at Santos in Brazil. ? Maicon v Salomon Kalou Brazil's rampaging right-back, may have to rein in his attacking tendencies against the speedy Kalou. If the Brazilian, who scored a wonderful goal in his side's opening match, is caught out of position, the Ivorian has the artillery to punish him.
Dunga has built a side that is technically gifted and solid, but it lacked a creative impetus against North Korea. The Ivorians need three points more than their opponents, who would settle for a draw. The Elephants will look for an early goal, but Brazil will be comfortable - and dangerous - deploying fast counters.
Player to watch
Didier Drogba Arguably Africa's best player, the Ivory Coast's entire World Cup campaign hinges on the performance of the Chelsea forward. Drogba, the captain, has proven that he can score against the world's best defences. The question is: how fit is he?
The sides have never played each other. Brazil have won all five of their previous meetings with African sides at World Cups without conceding a goal.
Did you know?
Brazil are the only country to have played in all 19 World Cups. The have won more titles (five) and games (64) than any other team and scored more goals (201).