Portugal and Côte d’Ivoire cancelled each other out at the Port Elizabeth Stadium in Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth, with both defences easily snuffing out the danger posed by two tentative attacking units feeling their way into the competition.
The build-up to the game had been dominated by Didier Drogba’s elbow injury, sustained only a few days ago. Les Eléphants fans will have been relieved to see their inspirational captain take his seat on the bench after so much speculation about his possible absence from the competition. Their relief was tempered by the fact that the much-anticipated duel between Drogba and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo failed to materialise, although the Chelsea man did make a second-half entrance, without changing the predictable pattern of the match.
Fear seemed to grip both sides, with both defences exerting a steely hold on proceedings, although Ronaldo enlivened a physically intense encounter with a dipping shot that cannoned off Boubacar Barry’s right-hand post 15 minutes in.
"It was clear from the start that both sides were determined to avoid losing at all costs, and that made for a very tactical game. A draw was the logical outcome" said Portugal defender Paulo Ferreira, whose perfectly timed sliding tackle on Gervinho in a tight first half helped maintain the deadlock.
"In a competition like the World Cup it’s the team that makes the least mistakes that comes out on top," Ferreira’s defensive partner Bruno Alves told FIFA. "That made it very important for us to find the right balance in our game, not give anything away and deny their strikers space at all times." Deny them space they did, with the Africans only managing to trouble the Portuguese rearguard when the Lille man broke through on goal before being thwarted by Ferreira and when Drogba shot wide in stoppage time.
"The defences were really on top," said Kolo Toure, one half of a formidable central-defensive partnership with his close friend Didier Zokora. "We did what needed to be done to contain their forwards," commented Salomon Kalou, while skipper Drogba was delighted with his country’s first clean sheet in a FIFA World Cup™ finals match, though he did have one regret: "Our final pass was not good enough. We would have won otherwise."
Les Eléphants’ Swedish coach Sven-Goran Eriksson was equally pleased with his team’s defensive discipline: "Neither side wanted to lose and that was why there were so few risks being taken. We found a way to keep them out and we were extremely organised at the back."
"The players were nervous and anxious,” said A Selecção das Quinas coach Carlos Queiroz. "The Ivorians followed a defensive gameplan and they played mainly on the break. They cut off our supply lines and we couldn’t just push forward en masse and risk losing the game."
"Both sides were tactically astute and very watchful," concluded Queiroz, offering the final word on a cagey encounter that was for the purists only.