The Ivory Coast striker took up his battle with the Brazilian Lcio but could not prevent his side slipping to a comprehensive defeat.
Didier Drogba eventually got the goal to make him feel his World Cup has started but in the most eagerly awaited fixture of the tournament so far his Ivory Coast side were well beaten by a confident and combative Brazil. Once again a South American team hit an unanswerable rhythm while an African squad failed to demonstrate realauthority.
No player returning from injury at this tournament has been more eagerly awaited than Drogba, the standard-bearer for the entire African continent.
After being brought on for the last 24 minutes of the Ivory Coast's opening match against Portugal with a light cast protecting the arm broken only nine days earlier the Chelsea striker made his full comeback tonight.
In Drogba the Ivory Coast possess what the other good sides from sub-Saharan Africa most noticeably lack: a big, powerful, mobile and experienced centre-forward with a keen instinct for goal and a ruthless attitude to opposing centre-backs. It is not hard to imagine how good Ghana, for instance, would be with Drogba in front of their gifted midfield or how Cameroon would have fared with a partnership of Drogba and Samuel Eto'o.
At 32 he is probably taking part in his last World Cup. Before his accident, having finished the Premier League season with 29 goals, he was in the right form to take advantage of the opportunity to confirm his membership of the tournament's superstar elite. Last night he took the field wearing arm-warmers but the slightly more bulky appearance
of his left forearm suggested that he was still wearing some form of covering to protect the injury.
In the first half Drogba and Salomon Kalou operated in closer formation than at Chelsea, the younger man playing the role of second striker.
Their best combination of the evening came after only six minutes when Kalou tried to slide a pass down the inside-left channel for Drogba to chase but the Jabulani ball, true to its frictionless nature, ran harmlessly out of play.
With 12 minutes gone and the two sides still looking evenly matched, the Ivory Coast won another free-kick 35 yards out and to the right of the goal. Drogba placed the ball, straightened his back, took a deep breath and walloped it high into the seats behind the goal with his team-mates, having anticipated a better delivery into the goalmouth, swallowing their frustration.
A subtext of the night was always going to be Drogba's battle with Lcio, whom he last met in March when Chelsea were going out of the Champions League to Internazionale. Itwas a match which ended with Drogba's expulsion, and an echo of that contest was evident when the pair chased an overhit cross out to the touchline, grappling with each other before the referee awarded the foul against the Brazilian captain.
Shortly after the South Americans had taken the lead through Lus Fabiano Drogba provided a reminder of his usefulness in defence with a characteristically powerful clearing header from Elano's inswinging corner. A minute later,
however, he went down in a tangle with Felipe Melo. As he stayed on the floor, writhing in agony, it seemed that this might be something more than the bout of histrionics regularly witnessed at Stamford Bridge.
He was up and about again within a minute as play moved on but a little of the zest seemed to go out of him.
Drogba's return meant the relegation to the bench of Gervinho, the 23yearold Lille forward who had showed such deftness and dynamism against Portugal. Born Gervais Yao Kouassi, he was rechristened by a Brazilian
coach at the ASEC Mimosas academy in Abidjan and is currently looking potentially the most promising African No10 since the retirement of Nigeria's great Jay-Jay Okocha.
A couple of minutes after Fabiano had doubled his total and Brazil's lead last night, Sven-Goran Eriksson sent Gervinho on in place of Aruna Dindane, whose last act had been to send over a deep cross from the right which Drogba, evading his markers at the far post, wastefully headed wide from eight yards. Within minutes the newcomer was driving
through the centre of the defence, leaving defenders floundering as he played a one-two, just failing to reach the marginally misjudged return.
It was Gervinho whose raking run from the halfway line into the Brazil penalty area in the 75th minute provided the opportunity for Yaya Tourto collect the clearance and then to sweep over a diagonal ball from the left for Drogba to guide a header past Jlio Csar. It was a small consolation for the Ivory Coast's captain on a night when his country joined Zaire (1974), Algeria (1986), Cameroon (1994) and Ghana (2006) on the unblemished list of Brazil's African victims in WorldCupfinals.