By RON FANFAIR
Key injuries have afflicted African teams even before a ball is kicked in the first soccer World Cup final to be staged on the continent.
Host country South Africa faces Mexico and France meets Uruguay in tomorrow’s opening matches in Johannesburg and Capetown respectively.
The Ivory Coast is hopeful that African Player of the Year Didier Drogba, who netted 37 goals for English Premier League side Chelsea last season, will suit up after breaking his arm in a practice match against Japan last Friday. The Ivorian captain underwent successful surgery and has rejoined his teammates.
Drogba has scored 44 goals in 69 appearances for the Ivory Coast and his presence is pivotal to the team’s hopes of advancing to the second round.
Ivory Coast meets Portugal, which will be without winger Nani, who suffered a collar bone injury in training a week ago, in their first match on June 15. The West Africans will then oppose Brazil on June 20 and North Korea five days later.
Nigerian midfielder John Mikel Obi will miss the World Cup with a knee injury. He underwent surgery last month and feels he has not fully recovered.
Obi joins fellow Chelsea stars Michael Essien of Ghana and Germany’s Michael Ballack who are out of the tournament because of injury.
Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari is also doubtful for the quadrennial tournament. He aggravated a thigh strain against the Dutch last week and missed his team’s win over Latvia last Saturday.
Ghana plays its first match on Sunday against Serbia.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela is expected to greet players and fans for about 15 minutes at tomorrow’s opening ceremony in Johannesburg before returning home to watch the South Africa/Mexico contest.
The 91-year-old Mandela attended the 1995 Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg. His presence at tomorrow’s opening could lift the South African team which is in a tough group with the Mexicans, France and Uruguay.