Every time Cristiano Ronaldo touched the ball in a scoring position, there was an Ivory Coast defender closing down on him.
Kolo Toure. His brother Yaya. Didier Zokora. Even Guy Demel. It didn’t matter who it was, they always made the timely tackle.
That was the story of the 0-0 draw between Portugal and the Ivory Coast.
It wasn’t the missed chances, or even the lack of chances. It was stalwart defense by a team known for being relatively lax in its own third.
Forget that Cristiano and company couldn’t find the net, and rarely challenged Ivory Coast’s keeper Boubacar Barry. It wasn’t for a lack of effort on their part. The Ivory Coast defense played all 90 minutes as well as they could have hoped to.
The back line of Kolo Toure, Zokora, Siake Tiene, and Guy Demel were physically superior, both in speed and strength to their Portuguese counterparts. And with Yaya Toure in front of them, patrolling the defensive half of the midfield, the back line was even more daunting.
And for the first time in a while, there were no mental lapses.
However, the same cannot be said on the other end of the pitch.
The Elephants controlled the ball for the majority of the match and came up with the most opportunities. They have no excuse for not finding the back of the Portugal net.
Gervinho carved up every defender Portugal threw at him, and the sheer speed of Salomon Kalou seemed overwhelming at times.
Only Arune Dindane seemed sluggish and behind the tempo of the game, and he was the only starting forward to finish the match.
But none of those players are out and out goal scorers. It doesn’t come naturally to them the way it does for Didier Drogba, who in his own right appeared sluggish for his 25 minutes of action (but who would’ve thought he’d produce more having had surgery on his arm only a week earlier?).
Five more days of training and the confidence boost he earned from staying on the pitch the whole time should be enough for the big talisman striker to start against Brazil.
Flank him with Kalou and Gervinho and suddenly the anemic offense on display against Portugal gets much, much better.
In reality, one natural goal scorer was the only thing that separated the two squads Tuesday, and Drogba should be ready to make an impact in the remaining two matches.
With Drogba, the goals will come. Without him, they have always struggled.
If the backline can contain the likes of Robinho, Luis Fabiano, and Kaka the way it controlled Ronaldo, the Elephants should have no trouble taking at least one point away from Brazil.
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