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Ivory Coast comeback against Japan to record Africa’s first victory
The Elephants of Ivory Coast managed to seal a 2-1 comeback against Japan in their 2014 World Cup opener.
Ivory Coast struggled to turn their dominance into goals in the first half, but were rewarded for their coach’s courage to go 4-2-4 early in the second half with two quick goals to comeback against Japan in their World Cup opener.
Didier Drogba came off the bench to inspire his team-mates to a very well-deserved win, leaving Ivory Coast second behind Colombia in the group and in great shape to progress.
Ivory Coast XI: Barry; Boka, Bamba, Zokora, Aurier; Serey, Tiote, Toure; Kalou, Bony, Gervinho.
Japan XI: Kawashima; Nagatoma, Morishige, Yoshida, Uchida; Hasebe, Yagamuchi, Kagawa, Honda, Okazagi, Osako
A quick start to the game saw Ivory Coast on the front foot, with their right flank in particular looking threatening with Aurier and Gervinho on the ball often.
Japan were very disciplined without the ball, and broke quickly with their three attacking midfielders creating havoc in between the lines for Ivory Coast, with Honda especially finding space between the lines and looking extremely threatening.
16 minutes in and poor positioning by Aurier and Yaya Toure led to Honda taking one touch and blasting a great finish into the top corner from a great pass.
Ivory Coast responded well to the setback and were dangerous throughout, yet their shooting was extremely wayward, shown by the fact that they ended the half with 9 more shots than Japan but no clear cut chance, except for a skied Kalou header.
Both Ivorian wingers (and full-backs) enjoyed a lot of space and linked up well with Bony, yet the final third decision making was lacking.
On the other side, Japan were always threatening on the counter, using their attackers intelligent movement to drag the Ivory Coast back-line all over and create openings. Kagawa was in poor form often letting Ivory Coast off the hook with his decision making.
Japan started the second half calmly, trying to control play and slow down the waves of Ivory Coast attacks. On 54 minutes, Endo took the place of Hasebe in midfield for Japan.
Ivory Coast were slowly pushing men forward, and their urgency was much better in the second half.
After 15 minutes of poor ball retention by Japan, as well as 10 men behind the ball, Ivory Coast were looking much more dangerous. Yaya Toure will feel extremely unlucky to have not been given a penalty after a mazy run led to a hasty tackle by Yoshida.
On 62′ Drogba came on for Serey Die, signaling Ivory Coast’s intent to attack as they switched to a very attack minded 4-4-2 (almost a 4-2-4). With Drogba’s first touch of the game, his run and back-heel gave Gervinho a clear chance to level which was kept out.
Three minutes later, Ivory Coast’s pressure finally told as Bony laid the ball off to Aurier and rushed to meet the right-back’s return cross with a glancing header to make it 1-1.
100 seconds later, another Aurier cross found Gervinho’s head to guide into the near post and the comeback was complete.
Although Drogba did not directly play a part in either goal, his presence seemed to draw Japan’s defenders away from his fellow strikers, as the 4-2-4 gave Japan’s defender fits and gave Aurier all the space he needed and the men in the box to pick out 2 crosses.
Bony dropped back after the goal to play more of a defensive role, and was soon taken off for Didier Ya Konan.
The rest of the game was pretty uneventful, as Japan tried to chase the game but failed to apply pressure as they ran out of gas.
Surprisingly, the Japan coach decided to wait until the 87th minute before pulling Kagawa, who had a horrible game and replacing him with Kakitani.
Drogba and Gervinho (the king of bad decisions on the counter-attack) threatened afterwards and Drogba’s hold up play was a key feature of the last couple of minutes as the Ivory Coast ran out deserved winners.
Man of the Match: Serge Aurier
Flop of the Match: Kagawa