Recife: Didier Drogba came off the bench to help Côte d’Ivoire come from behind and beat Japan 2-1 in an entertaining World Cup Group C encounter. The talismanic striker had been nursing an injury and was not expected to feature. However, his introduction in the 62nd minute when his side was 1-0 down made all the difference.
The Africans made a sluggish start went a goal down in the first quarter of an hour when Yuto Nagatomo played a pass across the edge of the Côte d’Ivoire penalty area before it was beautifully finished off into the top corner by Keuisuke Honda. The AC Milan, along with Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa, are Japan’s two key players but they failed to take a stranglehold on the came. Instead of finishing off the job, Japan sat back and Côte d’Ivoire sprung into life. The Africans started to pepper the Asian goal at every opportunity, with Manchester City midfielder Yaya Touré and Arthur Boka both coming close with free-kicks. However, Japan’s defense stayed resolute as Eiji Kawashima pulled off a couple of impressive saves to keep Côte d’Ivoire at bay.
Côte d’Ivoire carried on launching attack after attack and its best opportunity to level came just before the break when Salomon Kalou found himself alone in the goalmouth, but was unable to direct his header home. The second-half started with energy as Makoto Hasebe grazed Côte d’Ivoire’s post five minutes in. Not long after, Les Elephants prepared for the introduction of Drogba. Immediately Côte d’Ivoire turned from a side that could not hit the target to one that did so twice in two minutes.
The equalizer finally arrived in the 65th minute – three minutes after Drogba’s introduction – as Swansea City striker Wilfried Bony headed in Serge Aurier’s ball. The Africans were on a roll and another cross from Aurier from the right flank was headed home by Gervinho. Within 120 seconds, Côte d’Ivoire went from 1-0 down to 2-1 up.
It was not just Drogba’s presence that gave his side a lift, the Galatasaray forward came close to scoring twice in four minutes. First a strike on 81 minutes and then one in the 85th failed to hit the target. While Côte d’Ivoire upped its game against Japan after going 1-0 down in this World Cup Group C encounter, the latter failed to react to the two sucker punches. The Asian champions failed to muster up another single threat during the rest of the match.
Côte d’Ivoire and Japan both return to action in World Cup Group C next week. The former meets group leaders Colombia, while Japan takes on Greece in a do-or-die encounter. Colombia beat Greece 3-0 in the group’s opening game and now Côte d’Ivoire’s 2-1 victory over Japan has already made the “easy group” of the World Cup that more intriguing.
The winner and runner-up of Group C will play the runner-up and winner of World Cup Group D respectively. Group D saw a major shock yesterday as much fancied Uruguay went 1-0 up against unfancied Costa Rica, before surrendering three goals to lose 3-1. England and Italy played out an entertaining match in Manaus, with the Andrea Pirlo-inspired Italians eventually running out with a 2-1 victory to go second in the group.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd