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Ivory Coast Sweat over Drogba’s Fitness for Brazil Face-Off

Following what should be a relatively comfortable opening fixture against North Korea, Brazil contest their second fixture, again in Johannesburg, against the Ivory Coast on June 20th.

The Ivory Coast is a nation with some of the world’s most recognizable talent on its roster. However, despite the big names, the team as a whole has been an underachiever at recent big tournaments.

Brazil’s match against the Ivory Coast could be their first real test of the tournament

For example, four years ago, after reaching the final of the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, they could not get out of their World Cup group of death that featured the Netherlands, Argentina, and Serbia, so their early exit could seen as understandable considering the difficulty of the hand they were dealt.

However, it was the performance in those matches that left some shaking their heads. They lost 2-1 to both the Netherlands and Argentina in very poor fashion, making the 3-2 victory of Serbia meaningless as the Elephants were already staring elimination in the face. This was their only appearance so far at the World Cup

Four years later at the 2010 African Cup of Nations, same story, losing 3-2 to Algeria in the quarterfinals. This came after dropping two points against Burkina Faso in the group stage. Following this performance in Angola, the Elephants fired their manager Vahid Halilhodzic and replaced him with former England manger Sven-Göran Eriksson, who had recently been made redundant after his dismissal as the Mexico national side manager.

Eriksson has a group of talented players at his disposal.

With Eriksson on board as manager, it is probable his side will play a conservative 4-3-3. He has called up six forwards for the World Cup, which reinforces the probability of this formation.

It was a very solid qualifying campaign before the Africa Cup of Nations failure. In the final round of qualifying the team went 5-1-0, with 19 goals scored against 4 allowed. However, it should be noted that the nation got a favourable draw that featured Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Malawi.

In terms of individual quality, there is a huge gulf in class between North Korea and Ivory Coast, who boast such names as the Toure brothers (Kolo and Yaya), as well as Chelsea forward Salomon Kalou and former Tottenham Hotspur centre midfielder Didier Zokora.

The big worry for the Elephants, however, is the fitness of star striker and captain Didier Drogba. The Chelsea hitman broke his elbow in a collision with Japanese centre back Tulio Tanaka in a pre-tournament friendly in Switzerland and required surgery on his arm, but Eriksson remains optimistic that Drogba could return ahead of schedule.

It had been initially feared Drogba may miss the entire tournament.

“If it had been today or tomorrow, he wouldn’t play,” said Eriksson ahead of the 15 June clash against Portugal.

“But there are still some days – he might play against them [Portugal].”

Given Eriksson’s hopeful attitude towards his main man being fit to play against the Portuguese, it would seem extremely likely that the Premier League top scorer will be ready to face Dunga’s Brazil in Johannesburg.

Drogba could well be in for a long afternoon, if this seasons UEFA Champions League was anything to go by, as when Drogba’s Chelsea met Internazionale in the quarter finals of the competition, the 32-year-old striker found himself neutralised by Inter, and Brazil, centre-back Lucio, during both legs of the tie as Inter ran out 3-1 winners on aggregate. Should this incident reoccur, Eriksson’s side will find it difficult to break down the stubborn South Americans.

After their 2-0 victory over Japan, the Ivorian’s struggled to a 1-1 draw against Swiss second division side Lausanne. Eriksson’s men clearly lacked the presence of captain Drogba, and missed a host of chances in their final warm up match.

The Africans do present a challenge however, due to their top-class experience and quality. They have a strong spine to their team, as well as having plenty of players with a physical presence. Their pitfall, however, could be an over-reliance on Drogba, and a lack of a creative spark; they don’t have a player who can consistently slice open defences with a killer pass.

Prediction: This could be said to be Brazil’s most difficult match in the group stage, due to North Korea and Portugal’s lack of big names and form respectively, but a match they should take all three points from. Brazil 2-1 Ivory Coast.

Brazil Line-Up (possible, 4-2-2-2)

Julio Cesar; Maicon, Lucio, Juan, Michel Bastos; Gilberto Silva, Felipe Melo; Elano, Kaka; Robinho, Luis Fabiano

Ivory Coast Line-Up (possible, 4-3-3)

Barry; Eboue, Toure, Meite, Boka; Zokora, Demel, Toure; Kalou, Drogba, Gervinho

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