A showpiece without a show
This was a showcase for the global game, an occasion for football to demonstrate how its 21st Century identity of a borderless, flat football field of a world had taken shape. All the exhibits were in place: Two teams whose key players are familiar faces not just to each other, on the rarefied playing fields of Europe where they are club-mates or frequent opponents, but to fans the world over; two managers who define, in different ways, the modern "global coach"; two superstars whose brand recall is strong whether in Manchester, Mumbai or Mombasa.
Those strands all came together in the 66th minute, when Didier Drogba was brought on as a substitute to rapturous acclaim from everyone in the stands [there were as many Portugal flags waving as those of the Ivory Coast - signifying his unique appeal]. And there was a nice moment shortly afterwards when Drogba and Ronaldo stood arm in arm, exchanging a smile and a friendly word.
The stage was set, all that was needed was a game that highlighted those skills. Pity someone forgot to tell the players. For 90 minutes they struggled to find any rhythm, overhitting their passes with surprising regularity and by the end you wondered just what the problem was - the ball, the pitch (the divots came off too easily) or maybe just the players themselves? The crowd remained content to bring out the Mexican Wave every now and then but clearly they were determined to enjoy themselves because this was the World Cup; if this was a Premier League (or equivalent) game, the boos would have been ringing out well before full-time.
This was the stage for Cristiano Ronaldo to do so much: Prove that he can score for his country (he hadn't scored a single goal to bring them here); respond to Lionel Messi's brilliant opening gambit on Saturday in the unspoken contest the world's best players usually wage during the World Cup; and perhaps prove to himself that his relatively low-key season with Real Madrid was behind him. He was named man of the match but that was largely because his shot on goal in the 11th minute - a little shimmy to throw off the defender, two steps sideways and wham! - was one of the few moments one took from the match. The rest of his play was peppered with his bad habits - he seemed to be trading in them, two stepovers for every pout, a 50-yard burst for each rollover.
In all fairness, though, there did appear to be a problem in wavelength with his team-mates. Several times he moved into positions no one else could anticipate, flicking passes no one was ready to receive, making those tearing runs only to find no ball on its way to him. It's a problem he shares with Messi, due in part to the genuine lack of familiarity among national team-mates who spend little time together, and in part to a different sort of footballing brain.
This was the stage for Drogba to show a second consecutive finals in the so-called "Group of Death" was not going to be a problem, that his Ivory Coast side had learnt from their experience in 2006, when they acquitted themselves honorably but finished third, behind Argentina and Netherlands. Drogba played 25 minutes and had one notable moment, in injury time when he passed instead of taking what would have been an admittedly difficult chance. Two minutes later, though, when Ivory Coast won a corner with the seconds running down, they chose to play it short in a decision that probably summed up the game.
Drogba's appearance, inevitable though it was, snuffed out a promising performance for Gervinho, the young Lille forward. He had a lively game before his more illustrious team-mate joined him - his 29 touches before dropping to two after. He was especially involved early in the second half, opening proceedings with a break down the left and setting up another move a few minutes later, before heading wide from a Tiote cross, and generally looked at ease in the unfamiliar role of filling Drogba's shoes.
Gervinho was one of two future stars on watch - the other, Portugal's winger Danny, failed to impress and was taken off before the hour. Seen as a possible replacement for the injured Nani , the Zenit St Petersburg winger will realise there's more to it than just a name that matches.
Similarly, perhaps the teams as a whole will realise there's more to the World Cup than simply turning up. Football's biggest stage with one relatively old powerhouse and a new, exciting force will have to do better than this.
It's my prediction that the likes of Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Nigeria and Ghana could achieve unprecedented global popularity thanks to the worldwide reach of the top European leagues where their star players ply their trade. The trick for those players will be to replicate for their country the skills they demonstrate so easily for their clubs. On Tuesday's evidence there's a long way to go.