Ivory Coast and the Toure brothers leave Portugal firing blanks
Confession time. Some of us Arsenal fans have a passion for Kolo Toure, the man mountain who holds the Ivory Coast back four together.
His brother Yaya, who is about to join Kolo at moneybags Manchester City, is also high in my affections. Arsenal had Yaya as a kid, and quickly put on their books after a fraternal trial though he played for a club in Belgium.
Yaya was allowed to go to Barcelona, where he has established himself as one of Europe’s top African stars. Kolo, one of Arsenal’s title-winning Invincibles six years ago, has decamped for the Abu Dhabi-funded rebuilding process at Eastlands. Soon, if the reports are to be believed, they will both be together at City.
The pair of them made Portugal, ranked a too-lofty No3 in the world, look very ordinary in a rain-swept Port Elizabeth.
The first Group G game followed the general binary pattern of this otherwise faultless World Cup. A bit of a burst early on, then caution as both sides attempted to avoid defeat. Tomorrow, when South Africa take on Uruguay at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, we hope the real action will begin as Group A moves into the second round of fixtures.
Truth is, losing your first game at the finals just isn’t acceptable. That’s why the scores so far read 1-1, 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 1-1, 0-1, 4-0, 0-1, 2-0, 1-0, 1-1, 1-1 and 0-0, only Germany’s four-goal win over Australia relieving the monotony for these soggy fans who travelled so far.
The Portuguese community in South Africa, something of a lost tribe, number over a million. Most of the 42,000 braving the rain at the brand new Nelson Mandela Bay stadium had travelled 1,000 miles from Johannesburg for the rare chance to wave their flag with pride.
Sadly, apart from their idol Cristiano Ronaldo hitting a post from distance early on, they had little to celebrate.
Ronaldo was harshly booked soon afterwards and apart from a free-kick with the ultra-light Jabulani ball which flew over the bar like all the others in this tournament, they had little else to cheer.
Instead it was Ivory Coast, ranked 27 in the world, who were comfortably the dominant side, though they had to wait over an hour for the arrival of their talisman, Didier Drogba, who was given permission to play with a cast on his broken arm shortly before the game.
The two Toures shone throughout, as did Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboue. Some may have been thrilled at the sight of a quintet of Chelsea stars – Kalou, Drogba, Ferreira, Carvalho, Deco. But a win was not to be in a pitch cutting up badly. By the close it was a Drogba-inspired Cote d’Ivoire who were putting all the pressure.
But there was no magic moment to lift this game. Barely a save at either end, and we will have to wait for Brazil later tonight to provide the magic this tournament so richly deserves. Ranked No1 in the world, surely the five-time world champions can give North Korea, at 105 the lowest ranked side at the finals, a good old-fashioned tonking in Group G’s second showdown?
The opening match of day five saw New Zealand grab their first-ever point in the World Cup finals. Winston Reid headed the last-gasp equaliser for the All Whites after Robert Vittek had put Slovakia ahead.
But with Paraguay and Italy drawing 1-1 the night before in Cape Town, both these side will struggle to emerge from Group F after another less than heart-stopping 90 minutes.
Ivory Coast boss Sven Goran Eriksson, the former England and Mexico coach, said: “Nobody wants to lose a game like this. We had some half chances and it was good to bring Drogba on.
“As a team we defend very well. We still have one point. Next we have Brazil, let’s see what we can do.”