PORT ELIZABETH, June 14 – Two of the world's finest footballers were set to grace the World Cup stage here on Tuesday as Portugal open their campaign against top African hopes Ivory Coast.Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba will be the inspirations for their sides as they look to sidestep a forecast last 16 clash with European champions and cup joint favourites Spain.
Drogba had initially looked sure to miss the game after breaking his arm in a warm-up against Japan on June 4.
The Chelsea striker underwent surgery and amazingly could still take part – he joined in a training session with his damaged arm in a sling last Friday.
Manager Sven-Goran Eriksson is hopeful his walking wounded warrior will make it.
"He is feeling better and better each day," said the former England and Mexico boss who took over the Elephants after January’s Africa Cup of Nations.
The Swede will leave a decision about Drogba’s participation until just before kick-off.
Drogba’s presence is vital. He was sorely missed when his teammates missed a host of chances in a warm-up against modest Swiss outfit Lausanne last Tuesday.
Ronaldo was refusing to get too excited about testing himself against one of the potential stars of this tournament.
"We know all about Drogba, he’s a great player," the Real Madrid ‘galactico’ said on Sunday.
"But we can’t get preoccupied by him. We must concentrate on our team, our tactics and our ambitions. That’s the only way to win."
Simao is hoping Portugal can top the table to avoid Spain, but that is a tall order with five-time champions Brazil, who take on minnows North Korea later Tuesday, lurking.
"It will be difficult if Portugal face Spain in the last 16 because they are the European champions," the 30-year-old said.
"Portugal have some of the best players in Europe with a lot of ambition and it’s a very united and strong team.
"It’s always important to start the World Cup in the best way with a win. We don’t want to face Brazil in the third game needing a win but if we need to win, why not? Because we have beaten them several times before."
Portugal, semi-finalists in 2006, had to survive a nervy play-off with Bosnia Herzegovina to qualify for South Africa, but Ronaldo insisted that their troubles were behind them.
"The most important thing is to get to the second round and if it’s as group winners, that would be better," said the 25-year-old.
"If not and we have to play Spain, there will be no need to fear them. Spain are one of the favourites for the World Cup, but we are not scared of anyone. We are going to play to win, or try to win."
Ronaldo, who scored 26 times for his club last season, is confident he will refind his scoring boots for his country after failing to net in qualifying, a 16 month long drought.
Goals, he explained, are like "ketchup – when it comes out (of the bottle) it all comes out at once".
He added: "I am just plugging away as usual. God knows who is working hard and who is deserving. I am perfectly calm.
"I want to turn in a great tournament and, who knows, be the best. I will strive for that. My ambition has always been to be the best."
Portugal are missing Manchester United winger Nani, who suffered a collarbone injury last week ruling him out of the competition.
Key to match
The Ivory Coast’s chances of beating the team ranked third in the world will be immeasurably increased if Didier Drogba can make a remarkable return just 10 days after surgery.