Portugal lack punch
World Cup 2010: Port Elizabeth
The first World Cup in Africa might have many unique and original qualities - but there are some very familiar characteristics in evidence.
Portugal's goalless draw against Ivory Coast in Port Elizabeth was the 13th game of the World Cup. It was the sixth draw, while another four of the previous fixtures had finished 1-0.
The sound of the vuvuzela might be something new for many football fans, but on the field of play, the fear of losing your opening group game is as strong as ever.
"There have been a lot of draws," Portugal defender Paulo Ferreira told me shortly after full-time at the Nelson Mandela Bay Arena. "Everybody knows it is important not to lose.
"Our match was between two teams that wanted to avoid defeat and, because there was a lot of respect on both sides, there were very few chances."
Both Portugal and Ivory Coast have yet to play Brazil and defeat on Tuesday would have made qualifying very difficult.
Ferreira was quick to point out that his team play North Korea next, while Sven-Goran Eriksson's Elephants face the Brazilians.
In effect, what he was saying was that Tuesday's draw suits his team because, if everything pans out as expected, Portugal will go into their final group game with four points safely tucked away after defeating North Korea, while Ivory Coast will have it all to do after losing their second match.
All well and good, but it could be argued that Portugal missed an opportunity to take a giant stride towards qualifying against an Ivorian side without talismanic striker Didier Drogba for most of the game.
The 32-year-old broke his arm on 4 June and started from the bench against Portugal, eventually joining the action after 66 minutes.
Much credit must go to the Ivorians for playing with a defensive solidity on Tuesday that has often proved to be beyond them. Several of the small contingent of journalists from Ivory Coast (apparently there are 11 in South Africa) told me they had never seen their team play as well in defence.
However, Ivory Coast were hardly potent in attack, managing just one shot on target, and Portugal should perhaps have done more to try to stretch the contest and test a backline that had an inexperienced central defensive pairing of Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora, who normally plays in midfield and was booked after just seven minutes.
"We didn't play well," admitted Deco afterwards. "It was difficult to find the space to create occasions to score."
Portugal almost found the net after 10 minutes when skipper Cristiano Ronaldo smashed a long-range drive against the woodwork. It was a brilliant individual effort but, looking back over my notes, I cannot find one occasion when Portugal opened up their opponents.
Ronaldo has not scored for his country since February 2009 and, despite claiming recently that goals are like a jar of ketchup - you keep forcing it then it all comes at once - he looked more frustrated than threatening on Tuesday.
His problems are symptomatic of his team in general. Portugal limped through qualifying, only securing their passage to South Africa after a play-off victory over Bosnia-Hercegovina.
They might be third in the Fifa world rankings but they scored just 19 goals in their 12 qualifying games (including the play-off ties), and eight of those came in two matches against Malta.
They recently drew 0-0 with Cape Verde and there is little sign of an upturn in form to suggest they are a genuine threat at this tournament.
A heat map of the ground covered by the individual players during the match showed that Ferreira and fellow full-back Fabio Coentrao hardly ever advanced beyond the half-way line.
Sporting Lisbon striker Liedson was a peripheral figure and the lack of a truly world-class striker - something of an Achilles heel for the Portuguese - seems to be the case once again.
Playmaker Deco, who retires from international football after this tournament, was withdrawn after 62 minutes and although I thought Raul Meireles was industrious in midfield, Carlos Queiroz's side lacked the guile and invention of recent Portugal sides.
"We always have good players, the level is almost the same but in 2006 we had Luis Figo and Pauleta who were important for us," veteran defender Ricardo Carvalho told me.
"Now we have more experience and I think we still have a good team."
They could very well go on to make a major impact here in South Africa. As Ferreira pointed out, if you qualify from the group stage then anything can happen.
For that to happen they badly need Ronaldo to find his scoring form, while a fully-fit Pepe should bolster the midfield.
But I did not get the impression after speaking to several Portugal players after the match they are a group who really believe they will leave this tournament having silenced their critics.
"You never know," added Ferreira, perhaps more in hope than expectation.
"We hope and wish to go as far as we can and anything can happen - but it is very tough and there other strong teams."