RECIFE- Gp C: Japan 1, Ivory Coast 2
—- Ivory Coast staged one of the most impressive performances by an African team at the World Cup for many years in turning around their Group G debut against the Japanese.
The Ivoriens struck twice in as many minutes in the second half immediately Didier Drogba, their inspiration, had entered the game from the subs’ bench. Earlier the Elephants trailed to a stunning Keisuke Honda strike in the first half.
Everything changed after the introduction of Drogba. Wilfried Bony equalised and then Gervinho struck again. Both goals were headers and both provided by crosses from Serge Aurier.
Ivory Coast, appearing in their third World Cup, have never gone past the group stage but will fancy their chances after a spirited performance.
However, it all looked to be going wrong for manager Sabri Lamouchi, who surprisingly left out former Chelsea striker Drogba and saw his side fall behind.
Asian champions Japan – the first team to qualify for the World Cup – were sharp and nimble in possession and took the lead with a goal of real quality from Honda on 16 minutes.
The AC Milan midfielder collected a pass across the box, took one touch and then drove home powerfully into the top corner with his left foot.
Ivory Coast had their moments, with midfielder Yaya Toure showing occasional glimpses of his destructive power, while Bony was guilty of wasting several chances.
But shortly after Drogba’s introduction, the Swansea strike equalised, leaping to glance a fizzing Aurier cross into the far corner.
Two minutes later, another drilled Aurier centre was met by Gervinho and his header squirmed past Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.
Drogba twice went close to finding the net in the closing stages as Lamouchi’s side finished strongly to leave Japan with an uphill battle to stay in the tournament.