x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Return of Ivory Coast's Drogba irks Portugal

Carlos Queiroz, the Portugal coach, suggested that football's ruling body may have bent the rules to allow Didier Drogba to play with a protective cast.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, left, tangles with Ivory Coast's Didier Zokora.
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, left, tangles with Ivory Coast's Didier Zokora.

PORT ELIZABETH // Didier Drogba made an unlikely return to action midway through the second half of Ivory Coast's opener against Portugal yesterday, only 11 days after breaking his right arm. Passed fit shortly before the kick-off, his entrance as a 66th-minute substitute was greeted by huge cheers and vuvuzelas were drowned out by the drumming by Ivorian fans for the first time in the match. But not everyone was happy to see him.

While Fifa allowed Drogba to wear a special protective cast after it was examined by the match referee, Carlos Queiroz, the Portugal coach, suggested that football's ruling body may have bent the rules because of the "cultural significance" of a player hugely popular in Africa taking to the field. "The Fifa delegates decided that the referee's decision is final," Queiroz said. "This was a bit odd as far as we were concerned because there are rules and regulations that say, for example, that players cannot play with a string bracelet or a plaster.

"The solution presented at the meeting was not necessarily one we knew about. I would like to know that all the rules are the same for everybody." Drogba hurt his right arm in a warm-up match against Japan on June 4, undergoing surgery and sitting out several training sessions to give him time to recover. Fifa said yesterday that all parties, including Jorge Larrionda, the referee from Uruguay, and Portuguese team officials, were satisfied that the cast did not pose a danger to other players.

Drogba replaced Salomon Kalou, his Chelsea teammate, but made little impact on a tight match, that ended 0-0. Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portugal captain and world's most expensive player, hit the post early on from the edge of the box, but Ivory Coast otherwise created the better openings. "There was only one team trying to win and build up the attack," Queiroz added. "But attacking was impossible with 11 players in front of us."

Sven-Goran Eriksson, the Ivory Coast coach, was delighted to see Drogba move freely, saying: "I spoke to him after training yesterday evening and he said he preferred to be on the bench. He said 'Boss, if you need me, I am there.' I hoped we would not need him but we wanted to win the game so we did what we did. We did not put any pressure on him." Drogba was delighted with the result. "To draw against the number three team in the world, it was amazing, you have to be proud," he said. "We have to be satisfied with this result because we only have a short history in the World Cup." * AP Man of the match: Aruna Dindane (Ivory Coast)

Group F
Country M W D L GF GA Pts
Brazil 1 1 0 0 2 1 3
Portugal 1 0 1 0 0 0 1
Ivory Coast 1 0 1 0 0 0 1
North Korea 1 0 0 1 1 2 0