Likely to begin without their inspirational skipper and goal-getter Didier Drogba, apparently still trying to shake off a shoulder injury that he suffered during a friendly match against Japan on June 4, The Elephants will rely on, among others, Lekhwiya striker, Aruna Dindane and Chelsea winger, Salomon Kalou to deliver for them upfront .
On paper, the Ivorians are a good match for their opponents, for where Portugal will throw in 2008 World Footballer of the year and Real Madrid Star – Christiano Ronaldo, they will have Yaya Toure and where the Portuguese brandish Pepe, they will have Kolo Toure.
A bulk of the Ivory Coast players have played soccer at the grand stage and emerged victorious. Yaya triumphed over Ronaldo, Sima Sabrosa (Athletico Madrid) and Pepe in the Spanish La Liga, where he lifted the league title with Barcelona and with Kalou and his Chelsea teammates having triumphed over Nanis Manchester United in the English Premiership, where they beat the Red Devils home and away in the FA Premiership, on their way to lifting a league and cup double, the Africans can claim to be the better side.
However, the Elephants will have to rise above inconsistency, which has been their biggest let down in major cup competitions, if they are to survive in this tight Group G, also featuring five-time world champions Brazil and is already dubbed the Group of Death.
There is a lot of familiarity in players between the two sides though, with Cote dIvore rightback, Emmanuel Eboue (Arsenal), Steve Gohouri (Wigan Athletic), Kolo Toure (Manchester City) playing in the same league with Portugals Chelsea trio of Ricardo Carvalho, Deco and Paulo Ferreira, while Kalou trains with these week in week out.
This is the Elephants second participation in the FIFA World Cup, having made their first ever appearance at Germany 2006, where they bowed out in first round, after losing 2-1 to each of Argentina and Holland and won 3-2 over Serbia and Montenegro in Group C.
Portugal, then placed in Group D, won all their three matches after beating former colony Angola 1-0, Iran 2-1 and Mexico 2-1 to top the group. They went to beat the Netherlands 1-0 in the second round before accounting for England 3-1 on penalties in the quarterfinals. They however, bowed out of that edition after succumbing to Zinedine Zidanes 33rd minute penalty, which gave that semi-final clash to France.
Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, who coached Eboue and once managed Kolo Toure, last week tipped the Ivorians to prevail in the group, with or without their injured skipper, who has been given a chance to recover by coach Sven Goran Eriksson.
Speaking at the Castrol Index event in Sandton, the Frenchman said that the Elephants have the best all-round squad to challenge the big boys.
If Didier Drogba is not fit they still have quality players offensively they are not short. If you want to look at the quality of a team, you look at how many of their players play at big clubs. There are ten big clubs maybe in the world, and they have the highest percentage of players at big clubs, so they have the highest potential. But they have a difficult group, said Wenger. A Royal Bafokeng, Rustenburg clash between New Zealand and Slovakia in Group F will set the ball rolling at 1pm, before another Group G match in which perennial favourites Brazil will meet the Korea DPR at Johannesburgs Ellis Park stadium tonight at 830pm.Post published in: Zimbabwe Sports News