A Didier Drogba cameo sealed a comeback win for the Ivory Coast in what could be one of the key games of Group C against Japan. An early Honda goal was cancelled out by a quickfire double from the Ivorians in the second half, providing the hardcore few fans who’d stayed up with a real footballing treat.
Story of the Game
The game began slowly, with an uneventful opening ten minutes no doubt causing many of those who’d stayed up into the early hours for the World Cup’s latest kick off to doze off for a short while. As expected, the Ivory Coast attacked with intent, especially down the wings with Arthur Boka and Serge Aurier both making the early running for the African side, while Japan controlled the opening exchanges, growing into the game from an attacking perspective as the game emerged from its infancy.
The deadlock was – like in many of the World Cup’s games so far – broken early on, AC Milan playmaker Keisuke Honda scoring one of the tournament’s finest finishes so far on the quarter of an hour mark. Receiving the ball from the left hand side just inside the area, Honda swivelled from his right foot onto his left, leaving his man, the highly rated Serge Aurier, for dead – slamming the left footed drive past Boubacar Barry and high into the top of the net, becoming Japan’s highest ever World Cup scorer – his third goal at this level, all told.
Schalke full back Atsuto Uchida went close minutes later, breaking into the box from the right wing before smashing a shot right at goalkeeper Barry when he could have probably squared it for his teammate Kagawa instead. From the resulting corner, the Ivory Coast defended well – and it was not long until it was the African side began making the most attacking running, Yaya Toure thumping a long range effort straight at Eiji Kawashima, who saved well, but because of the conditions and vicious nature of the shot, could only parry wide. Fortunately for Kawashima, Gervinho was ruled offside from the rebound – despite not actively taking part in the play – meaning that Japan’s cobbled-together effort at defending was not important, even if ultimately it was successful, forcing Wilfried Bony to fire wide.
Japan’s only further chance of the half came through Honda, who pushed his team forward down the middle but could only earn a corner from his shot, which deflected off the Ivorian defence. Perhaps the Japanese playmaker could have found his forward – Yuya Osako would have been clean in on goal if the ball had been threaded in towards him – but it’d be impossible to blame Honda for taking it on himself.
It was, however, not long until left back Arthur Boka was in on the act, coming close twice – a free kick which hit the top of the net and an absolutely thudding drive straight at Kawashima, which this time was held by the Japanese number one. On the stroke of half time, Wilfried Bony got caught up in his feet and fired wide, before ex-Chelsea wide man Salomon Kalou headed high and wide.
The Ivory Coast appeared rejuvenated after half time, creating all the chances in what was an exciting start to the half. Bony missed when it looked easier to score – again – before Maya Yoshida was forced into a world class tackle on Manchester City’s Yaya Toure in the penalty area. The Ivory Coast thought they had a shout for a penalty, but the referee’s judgement proved right from the replays – Yoshida’s tackle was inch perfect.
The Japanese lead wasn’t to last, though. Didier Drogba, waiting in the wings for most of the game, eventually took to the field, his first involvement a driving run at the Japanese defence, earning a corner in the process. The psychological impact of his involvement had a two-fold effect; boosting the Ivorian frontline’s confidence, while also scaring the Japan defence.
The impact was felt quickly, Serge Aurier surging forward and whipping in an excellent ball toward Swansea’s Wilfried Bony who finally remembered how to hit the target – the ball also managing to avoid Eiji Kawashima, bringing the Ivorians to terms with the Japanese. 98 seconds letter – exactly – a carbon copy cross by Aurier was found by Gervinho, who headed in low past Kawashima into the corner, the Japanese goalkeeper quite possibly at fault for the goal. Never mind, though; a quick double salvo by the Ivory Coast saved their bacon, making qualification for Japan much more difficult in the process.
Overall, an impressive outing by both sides, and one worth staying up until just before 4am in the morning for – but a poor capitulation for Japan, whose early game showing could have won them the game had they continued that into the final phases – while the Ivory Coast will no doubt be toasting a great win which will give them a chance at a historic qualification from Group C, their group rivals Colombia and Greece both showing signs of weakness earlier on Saturday.
Player ratings (out of 10)
Boubacar Barry – 6: Couldn’t do very much about the goal but didn’t have much else to do, either.
Serge Aurier – 6: Two excellent assists shouldn’t cover up what was a poor defensive performance for the full back, but the Toulouse man did show glimpses of why Arsenal are interested in him.
Souleyman Bamba – 6: Look composed on the ball, and ultimately kept Japan at bay.
Didier Zokora – 6: Defended reasonably well for an 800 year old man.
Arthur Boka – 7: Was the Ivory Coast’s key player in the first half before fading and going off injured in the second.
Cheick Tiote – 6: A reasonable game in defensive midfield from the Newcastle man. Didn’t allow the Japanese midfield too much space.
Serey Die – 6: As with Tiote, Die performed well when called upon – was outshone for large spells of the game by the men ahead and behind of him, however.
Yaya Toure – 6: Tried too hard to force the issue in midfield and as a result didn’t really deliver. Created a lot of chances for his country though.
Gervinho – 7: Missed a fair few chances, but also scored the crucial winner too. A damn sight better than his Arsenal days at the very least.
Wilfied Bony – 7: Should have equalised for the Ivory Coast much earlier than he did, but credit to him for staying at it and grabbing his country a crucial goal.
Salomon Kalou – 7: The ex-Chelsea man looked impressive on the break but was quite profligate in front of goal.
Didier Drogba – 8: Whether his substitution provided any boost beyond a psychological one is up for debate, but his presence on the pitch was the catalyst for the Ivory Coast’s comeback.
Constant Djakpa – 6: Came on for the injured Boka and continued the trend of being an unthreatened Ivorian left back.
Didier Ya Konan – 5: Didn’t have enough time to affect proceedings.
Eiji Kawashima – 6: At fault for Gervinho’s goal, but overall a pleasing performance from a goalkeeper forced into a ridiculous amount of saves.
Atsuto Uchida – 5: You can take the man out of Gelsenkirchen but you can’t take the Gelsenkirchen out of the man. Uchida seemingly forgot how to finish off anything well, not defending very well and being too selfish going forward.
Masato Morishige – 6: No complaints about Morishige from this game, but not exactly a distinguished performance either.
Maya Yoshida – 7: Made several excellent tackles throughout the game, especially the first half.
Yuto Nagatomo – 5: Offered a lot going forward, but allowed Aurier too much space for his assists.
Makoto Hasebe – 6: Showed some neat touches, but left the field of action before he did too much positive or negative.
Hotaru Yamaguchi – 6: A strong performance from Yamaguchi, who’ll hope to develop on his showing in the coming games.
Shinji Okazaki – 6: Largely anonymous performance by the Mainz striker, who played much of the game stranded on the right.
Keisuke Honda – 7: Goalscorer and leading light up front for Japan, Honda can also be criticised of overcomplicated things during the second half and being a bit sloppy in his passing range.
Shinji Kagawa – 6: Looked menacing going forward but didn’t give Aurier enough to think about.
Yuya Osako – 5: Wasteful in both his finishing and build-up play, it’s clear to see why 1.FC Köln have invested in the Japanese frontman.
Yasuhito Endo – 5: Despite coming on early in the second half, Endo did little of note.
Yoshito Okubo – 5: Like Endo, Okubo was anonymous. Perhaps he was playing for a move to Köln to team up with the man he replaced, the equally poor Osako.
Yoichiro Kakitani – 6: Was quite good when he came on – but he touched the ball only a few times. Not really his fault that he was on for about 5 minutes, really.
Man of the Match:
Didier Drogba. The ex-Chelsea striker was, puzzlingly, not starting in the opening game for his country, but still managed to change the game with a dazzling cameo. His drive with his first involvement as a substitute showed a sign of things to come, Drogba going on to disrupt the Japanese defence with his presence for both goals, before going close later on his own. Definitely helped by his main rivals for the award – Bony, Gervinho, Kalou and Honda – all showing massive levels of inconsistency throughout the game, Drogba definitely deserves the ‘accolade’ of a TBR Man of the Match award. Don’t let it overshadow your Champions League win, Didi!