Argentina carry the hopes of a nation which still suffers from the economic collapse of four years, while The Elephants of Ivory Coast are a rare symbol of unity in a country torn by civil war.

Despite being debutants, Ivory Coast is seen as the best chance Africa has of making a lasting impression on the 2006 World Cup.

The Ivorians’ confidence was boosted by their appearance in the final of the African Cup of Nations earlier this year.

 

The form of their strike players is another reason to be upbeat with Didier’s Drogba and Zokora; Bonaventure Kalou, Kolo Toure and Aruna Didane all enjoying excellent domestic seasons.

Michel and his maestro Didier
Drogba

However, there are few tougher opponents to face in your World Cup initiation, with the Argentineans still carrying some of the shame of being eliminated in the group stages of the last World Cup.

Captain Juan Pablo Sorin knows the importance of the first match in order to avoid another disaster.

"We have to pass the first round to make plans for the World Cup. And passing the first round means not losing a match... so as not to repeat what happened in 2002," said the feisty defender.

Their squad though has all the trickery and guile of their previous two World Cup winning sides and are considered a real chance of lifting the trophy if they can negotiate their way out of the group.

Riquelme, yet another
"Next Maradona"

They have plenty of diminutive game breakers with the trickery of Pablo Aimar, Lionel Messi, Juan Roman Riquelme and Carlos Tevez ready to unlock the tightest of defences.

With points at an absolute premium, Ivory Coast coach Henri Michel acknowledged the fact that his side has been given little time to adjust to the new stage.

"We know the importance of the first match in a World Cup, especially against Argentina. Often the result determines the behavior of the teams for the rest of the tournament," the Frenchman said.

"I'm confident about their ability, now it's a question of seeing how they react to the event."

A mouth watering fixture, the drama starts early in Group C.