One of the most entertaining individual match-ups we see in the club world is Chelsea's Didier Drogba battles against an elite central defenders, as we see (at least) twice each season when he faces Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic. Drogba's combination to strength, technique, speed and athleticism brings out the best any opposition, and when that opposition is one of the world's elite defenders, it's enough to remind you why you love the sport.
Today Didier Drogba, soft cast protecting a broken right arm, will go up against one of the world's best defenders, Brazil captain Lucio, against whom who played in the UEFA Champions League semifinal. But in that match, Internazionale manager José Mourinho had Walter Samuel and Thiago Motta helping on Drogba. Now, when we might have something closer to a mão em mão or main à la main, Drogba's got a broken ulna.
I suppose we're just going to have to find another reason to watch. Upon reflection, I can only come up with ... Kaká. Kalou. Robinho. Gervinho. Maicon. Touré. César.
The other Touré.
Yeah, this one should be worth our time.
Brazil, Going Forward: A surprisingly sluggish Brazil performance against North Korea has engendered doubt as to Kaká's fitness. The former all-world midfielder struggled through his first season at Real Madrid and barley returned to the team before their La Liga campaigned closed, never re-securing a spot in Manuel Pellegrini's regular XI. The attacker remains the fulcrum of Dunga's Selecão, but after the performance against Korea DPR, that might be for worse than better.
That's the pessimistic view. The optimist says North Korea played well, that Brazil was more uninspired than incapable. I'm inclined to side with the optimist, but Kaká's form is still worrisome, and against an Ivorian midfield that will feature the likes of Yaya Touré and Emmanuel Eboué, Kaká's ability to dominate a match will again be tested. Against North Korea, he failed the test.
Perhaps their talisman's struggles are a good thing for Brazil, as it is forcing them to find the "Plan B" most speculated they did not have. That plan appeared to be Robinho against North Korea, who infuriated Manchester City and Real Madrid supporters with the effort and influence he exhibited against North Korea. Brilliantly setting-up Elano's goal, Robinho hinted he could be the creative presence Brazil will need should Kaká 2010 fail to find Kaká 2007, a player that's looking more memory than realistic aspiration.
Cote d'Ivoire, Going Forward: Sven-Goran Eriksson has Les Elephants utilizing better wing play in forming their attacks, a welcome bit of diversity that may be bad thing if Drogba can not get healthy. Drogba is the only player who can be dangerous on the end of crosses from the wings, something that was frustratingly obvious against Portugal as the Ivorians' crosses looked more like attempted switches of play given the lack of presence in the box.
But without a creative presence in the middle, the only alternative Cote d'Ivoire has is trying to play passes behind the defense and hope Gervinho, Aruna Dindane and Salomon Kalou can beat the Brazilians to the ball.
And that brings us back to the importance of Drogba. Against Portugal, Cote d'Ivoire was strong defensively in midfield, played well at the back, worked well down the winger but ultimately had little to threaten goal. They also had few options in how to vary their attack, both areas where Drogba instantly helps.
If Drogba is able to play a significant amount of this match, Cote d'Ivoire are healthy underdogs. If he is only a late-match substitute, the Ivorians best hope is a 0-0 draw.
How The Match Turns: Of course there are set pieces, penalties, referee decisions, acts of God and alien ntervention that can get the Ivorians beyond a 0-0, best case, if Drogba can't play a meaningful part, but even those turns of event may prove inconsequential if Brazil plays with urgency. Against North Korea, they were flat, but if Dunga has his team firing on all of the proverbial cylinders the Brazilians cruise.