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FIFA World Cup: Ronaldo shoots blanks once again, Portugal in goalless draw with Ivory Coast

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didier_drogba.jpgCristiano Ronaldo's scoring drought continued for Portugal as they could only muster a goalless draw against  the Ivory Coast in a tense but drab encounter in Port Elizabeth in the opening game of the FIFA World Cup's ‘Group of Death'. The pick of the first round of matches failed to live up to expectation as goal scoring opportunities were limited with both defences firmly on top. Ronaldo came the closest to scoring when his brilliant first half 30-yard effort struck the post. For the Ivory Coast even the late introduction of Didier Droga as a second half substitute failed to break the deadlock as both teams seemed happy to settle for a point in a game where creativity was outfought by industry. Ivory Coast's Yaya Toure and Pedro Mendes for Portugal protected their respective back four's brilliantly.

New coach Sven-Goran Eriksson barely had a chance to work with his squad by the time his World Cup plans were thrown into disarray when inspirational captain Drogba broke a bone in his arm in an international friendly against Japan. Match referee Jorge Larrionda permitted the striker to play with a protective cast over his injured arm but he was deemed not fit enough to start and so only made the bench. Therefore in his absence Portsmouth's Aruna Dindane and Chelsea's Salomon Kalou played alongside Lille striker Gervinho in a fluid 4-3-3 formation, with Yaya Toure anchoring the centre of a strong physical midfield. Brother Kolo skippered the side in Drogba's absence, alongside Didier Zakora in defence after Eriksson surprised everyone by selecting the Seville man in the backline.

For Portugal, manager Carlos Queiroz selected the lightning quick Danny ahead of Simao, and he took his place in a front three alongside Leidson and Cristiano Ronaldo after Manchester United winger Nani was ruled out of the tournament with a collarbone injury. Captain Ronaldo would have been desperate to end his scoring drought for his country which had lasted since February 2009. In midfield Mendes was asked to play the holding role in what appeared a lightweight unit with Deco and Raul Meireles to provide the creativity in the engine room. Ricardo Carvalho and Bruno Alves were the two experienced centre halves in a solid enough looking back four.

The opening exchanges were cagey with plenty of respect given to both sides as it was amply evident that this match was so crucial with Brazil to follow later in the group. Ronaldo showed his intentions from the off, and was too quick for Zakora who took the Portuguese out, which earned the African the game's first yellow card on seven minutes. Then the Real Madrid man burst into life, jinking past Yaya Toure before unleashing a stunning strike from 30 yards out which smashed the upright with the goalkeeper Boubacar Barry rooted to the spot. The Ivory Coast had been warned that Ronaldo was definitely in the mood but his enthusiasm soon got the better of him after his protestations at a tackle by Guy Demel earned both a booking.

Clear cut chances were few and far between with both sides failing with their final passes as both Yaya Toure and his counterpart for Portugal, Mendes, were working hard in midfield to protect their respective defences. Les Elephants did not win their first corner until the 27th minute but Emmanuel Eboue's terrible delivery was symptomatic of the quality on show. Mendes was lucky to escape a booking after a crude challenge on Eboue, which the referee did not even deem worthy of a free kick, as the game became increasingly niggly. All the forwards on show, barring Ronaldo, were anonymous as the game became more fractious. Eboue tried to show his teammates the way with an encouraging run into the box on 37 minutes but the final pass from Tiote was over hit and the ball safely reached the arms of keeper Eduardo. As the first half drew to a close it was the Ivory Coast who were beginning to push forward with more intent but again without Drogba on the field they seemed to be lacking the belief that they could really pressurise the Portuguese defence.

The second half kicked off with Cote D'Ivoire starting strongly and within five minutes Tiote should have done better when he had a free header in the box from a corner, but he failed to make contact and the chance went begging. Carolos Queiroz decided Ronaldo needed more help and so brought off the completely ineffectual Danny for experienced Atletico Madrid winger Simao. On 57 minutes Leidson had his first sight on goal after good work by Deco but he failed to convert his cutback as the striker's header sailed over the bar. But as the game entered the final 30 minutes it was the Ivory Coast who were looking more threatening as Ronaldo became an increasingly peripheral figure. On 66 minutes the sound of the ever popular vuvuzelas reached an ear splitting crescendo as Drogba was finally summoned from the bench to replace his rather quiet Chelsea teammate Kalou.

Although the game became a little stretched, both defences were still on top, and both keepers were still not required to make any noteworthy saves. Meireles struck a hopeful shot from 25 yards out which drifted harmlessly wide and Ronaldo with a free kick, with the obligatory big dramatic build up, failed to trouble keeper Barry as he watched it sail over the bar. In injury time as the game petered out to a tameless draw Drogba finally got into the match but failed to properly latch onto the pass from fellow substitute Kader Keita and he ended up crossing across the box instead of going for goal.

Both sides move on from this dour but tense encounter satisfied they have not lost as the managers knew that defeat could have damaged their hopes of qualification beyond repair. Ivory Coast face five time winners Brazil in their next game and will be hoping Drogba starts as the attack was toothless without his huge presence. The back four can take confidence that they managed to keep Ronaldo quiet. Portugal face minnows North Korea and should come away from that game with a comfortable victory, but again not enough support was given to Ronaldo with both Danny and Leidson having quiet games. This ‘Group of Death' looks set to go down to the wire.

The teams:

Ivory Coast: Barry, Demel, Toure, Zokora, Tiene, Eboue (Romaric 88'), Toure Yaya, Tiote, Gervinho (Keita 82'), Dindane, Kalou (Drogba 65')

Portugal: Eduardo, Ferreira, Bruno Alves, Carvalho, Fabio Coentrao, Deco (Tiago 62'), Mendes, Raul Meireles (Amorim 85'), Ronaldo, Liedson, Danny (Simao 55')

Ivory Coast 0 - 0 Portugal

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Also Read: Brazil 2 - 1 North Korea (Match report)

File Photograph Copyright: Charles Nam

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