PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) — Didier Drogba made an unlikely return to action midway through the second half of Ivory Coast's World Cup opener against Portugal on Tuesday, only 11 days after breaking his right arm.
Cleared to play shortly before kickoff at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, his entrance as a 66th-minute substitute was greeted by huge cheers and vuvuzelas drowning out drumming by Ivorian fans for the first time in the match.
But not everyone was happy to see him on the field.
While FIFA allowed Drogba to wear a special protective cast after it was examined by the match referee, Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz suggested soccer's governing body may have bent its rules because of the "cultural significance" of a player hugely popular in Africa taking the field.
"The FIFA delegates decided that the referee's decision is final," Queiroz said. "This was a bit odd as far as we were concerned because there are rules and regulations that say, for example, that players cannot play with a string bracelet or a plaster.
"The solution presented at the meeting was not necessarily one we knew about. I would like to know that all the rules are the same for everybody."
Drogba hurt his right arm in a warmup match against Japan on June 4, undergoing surgery and sitting out several training sessions to recover.
FIFA said Tuesday that all parties, including referee Jorge Larrionda of Uruguay and Portuguese team officials, were satisfied the cast did not pose a danger to other players.
Drogba replaced Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou but made little impact on a defense that struggled to contain striker Gervinho and Aruna Dindane, Ivory Coast's leading scorer when it was knocked out of the first round at the 2006 World Cup.
Still, Ivory Coast coach Sven-Goran Eriksson watched his striker move freely, largely untroubled by an injury that threatened to prevent him from taking any part in the monthlong World Cup.
"I spoke to him after training yesterday evening and he said he preferred to be on the bench," Eriksson said. "He said 'Boss, if you need me, I am there.' I hoped we would not need him, but we wanted to win the game so we did what we did.
"We did not put any pressure on him."
Drogba said that there was little danger of worsening his condition and that he is confident of being in the starting lineup for Sunday's game against Brazil at Johannesburg's Soccer City.
"Every time you put your foot on the pitch, there is a risk," Drogba said. "With the protection I had it was clear there was no risk. The only problem is if I had fallen down."