Sven-Goran Eriksson has always preferred tentative hints to cast-iron guarantees, but it seems the Ivory Coast manager is hoping to start Didier Drogba against Brazil on Sunday. Drogba, who played 25 minutes for Ivory Coast against Portugal with his fractured elbow snug-tight in a protective cast, has trained all week and Eriksson believes his health has "improved markedly" since his side's opening game.
"Do not be surprised if Drogba starts the next game against Brazil," said Eriksson. "He made a valuable contribution when he was on the pitch against Portugal. He is an important player in the team and his health has improved markedly."
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Drogba's inclusion will give added oomph to what is surely the biggest game of the tournament so far. And Eriksson, in his quiet, understated way, believes his team are ready. "It is going to be a difficult game, but looking at what we did against Portugal, we are capable of creating a surprise."
Brazil are certainly hoping Eriksson does not dilute Ivory Coast's attacking instincts. Their coach, Dunga, likes his team to play on the counter – to exploit gaps and strike hard and fast on the break – but in their opening match they were smothered by a red blanket of North Korean defenders. "We don't think Ivory Coast will come out defending so much," Robinho said. "It's a very tough challenge when the other team is only trying to defend, it becomes very complicated for us."
"It's easier to defend than to create," agreed Nilmar. "But the Ivory Coast have a lot of quality players who play in top clubs. They will be trying to beat us so they can advance from the group."
Dunga is expected to start with the same 11 that opened against North Korea, with Kaká, who looks still far from his best as he slowly recovers from a groin injury, kept as a central playmaker. "When Kaká plays well he can decide any game," said Robinho. "He is very important to us." On Sunday he will need to be.
Júlio César, already unhappy with the eccentricities of the Jabulani ball – "an occupational hazard" – and the negative tactics of North Korea, has found another target to complain about: the cold weather. "You do your best, you use a special powder, but when you have nothing to do, it's very bad in the cold," he said. "You have to try to keep warm and keep concentrating in case you're suddenly called upon to take part in the game."
He will be relieved to hear the temperature is slowly warming up in Johannesburg. Much like the action on the pitch, you could argue. Perhaps Sunday night will bring a heatwave in more ways than one.