Superstar Didier Drogba gave Cote d'Ivoire a huge lift after coming off the bench as the Ivorians came from behind to beat Japan 2-1 in the 2014 Brazil World Cup Group C match here on Saturday night in Arena Pernambuco.Drogba was left on the bench in the first half, in which AC Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda's goal registered Japan a 1-0 lead. However, after Drogba came off the bench in the 62nd minute, the Elephants found back the rhythm as two headed goals by Wilfried Bony and Gervinho turned the game on its head.
"Our players were a bit nervous at the beginning, but after the interval I told them to keep calm and be relaxed to face the challenge and then they did it," said Cote d'Ivoire coach Sabri Lamouchi.
Explaining why Drogba didn't enter the line-up, Lamouchi said it was due to "technical consideration". "He is very tired after playing a whole season in the Turkish league. It's not easy for him, especially in his age. But when he come to the field, he will attract three or four defenders."
In the 16th minute, Honda received the ball from a corner in the Cote d'Ivoire area, opened his body and smashed the ball into the top corner with his left foot. The fantastic strike put this match back into life as both sides found little chaneces in the beginning 15 minutes.
Blue Samurai continued the momentum as Honda hit the target again on 21 minutes. One minute later, Atsuto Uchida found space on the Japanese right and neatly turned on to his left foot past Geoffroy Serey Die. He striked a shot towards goal, which was saved by goalkeeper Boubacar Barry.
The Ivorians fought back afterwards. In 27th minute, Lille midfielder Salomon Kalou played a nice one-two before blazing his shot over the bar from distance. Eight minutes later, Arthur Boka smashed a shot from distance, but Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawishima made a good save. Bony followed up and hit the post, but was flagged offside. The 1-0 scoreline didn't change during the first half.
"We had a good start, but in the second half we were conservative. We didn't continuously pressure the opponent's defence and they have some players with outstanding capability. Our players cannot catch up with their speed," admitted Japanese coach Albberto Zaccheroni.
Drogba replaced Serey in the 62nd minute before his team's quickfire turnaround. The Elephants scored two times within the next four minutes.
In the 64th minute, Yaya Toure spreaded the play to the right side and it was a stunning cross by Serge Aurier on to the forehead of forward Bony who glanced past Kawashima. It was Aurier who sent a nice cross from the right side two minutes later as Roma's midfielder Gervinho headed the ball home.
Japan was seemingly affected by this sudden change and failed to creat a scoring opportunity. Meanwhile, Cote d'Ivoire had most of the ball, but also without creating any more clear-cut opportunities.
Cote d'Ivoire became the first African side to defeat Japan at the World Cup. With the golden generation of Yaya and Kolo Toure, Drogba and Didier Zokora all over 30, this could be their final appearance at the summer showpiece as they tried to reach the knock-out stage for the first time.
In the previous two World Cups, Cote d'Ivoire have been drawn into two hard groups and were eliminated at the group stages after finishing third each time.
This is Japan's 5th straight World Cup. After a heartbreaking penalty kick loss at the last edition to Paraguay, Japan go into Brazil looking to avenge it. However the loss in the opener shadowed their prospect to another Round of 16 berth. (Xinhua)