Elephants & Portugal share spoils


PORT ELIZABETH, June 15- Ivory Coast and Portugal entered the World Cup fray here on Tuesday and produced a goalless draw marked by Didier Drogba's return to action just ten days after surgery on his broken arm.The African superstar, wearing a protective cast, was introduced as a second half substitute but he was unable to tip the balance in his countrymen’s favour in the Group G clash.

"No-one wants to lose a game like this," said Ivory Coast coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.

"Ronaldo had a good chance for them and we had some opportunities and half-chances."

Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo had the best chance to break the stalemate on a crisp winter’s afternoon in the first half when the Real Madrid winger’s 25m shot rattled Boubacar Barry’s left post in the 10th minute.

Barry’s opposite number Eduardo was let off the hook when shortly after Siaka Tiene’s curling long range freekick edged wide.

Another Ivorian, Ismael Tiote, then watched as his effort went over the Portuguese crossbar.

Referee Jorge Larrionda flashed his yellow card at defender Guy Demel for a foul on Ronaldo who in turn was cautioned for his stroppy reaction.

The Ivory Coast, the last of the six teams from Africa to enter the World Cup fray in South Africa, were giving as good as they got against their rivals from Europe ranked third in the world.

The game needed a goal and Salomon Kalou had Eduardo working with his shot on target in the 50th minute as Portugal manager Carlos Queiroz made his first change, replacing Danny with Atletico Madrid forward Simao.

Gone now was the caution that had marked much of the first period as this Group of Death curtain raiser really opened up and Barry had to be at full stretch to get hold of Liedson’s header after some nifty work down the left from Deco.

On 66 minutes manager Eriksson unleashed Drogba, who came on for his Chelsea teammate Kalou to by far the biggest cheer of the afternoon.

As the rain came down Ronaldo thought he had put the 2006 semi-finalists into the lead but Larrionda had already whistled for a foul by Liedson.

On 80 minutes Ronaldo, who failed to score in any of Portugal’s World Cup qualifiers, sent a 35m freekick edging over Barry’s crossbar.

A Drogba-inspired Ivory Coast had Portugal on the hop in time added on but he miscued his shot and man-of-the-match Ronaldo and co. escaped with a point.

The result left Ghana as the only one of the six African teams playing in this first ever World Cup in Africa to have won their opening first round match.

Group G favourites Brazil take on North Korea later Tuesday.