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Drogba factor dominates strategy


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PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa – The biggest question ahead of the Ivory Coast’s opening World Cup match against Portugal revolves around the fitness of injured striker Didier Drogba.
Drogba remains a doubtful starter after breaking his right arm in a friendly against Japan on June 4, and Ivory Coast coach Sven-Goran Eriksson can’t afford any risks today against a powerful Portugal squad led by Real Madrid winger Cristiano Ronaldo.
Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz is taking all possible precautions and making sure his team is ready to deal with Drogba, even though the Ivory Coast striker has only a slim chance of playing in the sides’ World Cup opener.
The teams arrived in Port Elizabeth yesterday for their only training session at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. Drogba didn’t train in the team’s Sharpeville base on Saturday, instead receiving treatment.
Midfielder Didier Zokora said Drogba, who trained with the team for two days late last week but wore a protective cast as he worked on his ball skills and fitness, remained in good spirits.
“Even if he’s not playing with us every time, he’s the captain and he leads the team very, very well,” Zokora said.
Portugal will feature a trio of Brazilian-born players. Defender Pepe, midfielder Deco, and striker Liedson all made their names in the Portuguese league. When the Brazilian national team failed to call them up, they became naturalised Portuguese.
They will have to face their original home country when Portugal meet Brazil in Group G, which also features North Korea.
Portugal are making their fifth appearance at the World Cup and their best performances were reaching the semi-finals in 1996 and 2006.
Ivory Coast, meanwhile, are among Africa’s best contenders for a second-round berth. The team have been invigorated since the arrival of Eriksson, who took England to the World Cup quarter-finals in 2002 and 2006.
Defender Kolo Toure said Eriksson had the Ivory Coast squad thinking more like a unit than a collection of individuals. Toure said Drogba would be missed if he didn’t play, but that Eriksson had shown that Ivory Coast was more than the sum of its parts.