The AC Milan man had put Alberto Zaccheroni's men
into the lead but two nodded goals in the second half
sealed a comeback, inspired by Didier Drogba's
Second-half headers from Wilfried Bony and Gervinho
completed a Cote d'Ivoire comeback as they defeated Japan
2-1 on Saturday.
Keisuke Honda put Alberto Zaccheroni's men into the lead
with a wonderful finish, controlling the ball in the box with
his first touch then hammering into the top corner at the
near post with his second touch.
Sabri Lamouchi's team were profligate in the first half but
Didier Drogba's arrival in the second half sparked the
Elephants into life and quickfire headers midway through the
second half turned the scoreline on its head.
Full-back Serge Aurier created both goals with impressive
crosses from the right with Bony and Gervinho taking
advantage, although the latter benefited from poor
goalkeeping from Japan's Eiji Kawashima.
Saturday's game was the first time Cote d'Ivoire have won
their opening fixture at a World Cup as the African nation
look to claim a maiden berth in the knockout stages in their
third consecutive appearance at the global tournament.
The shock in the two starting line-ups was the absence of
captain Drogba from Cote d'Ivoire's XI, after he failed to
recover from a thigh strain suffered at training on
Bony took Drogba's spot up front, while coach Sabri
Lamouchi made two other changes to the XI that began Cote
d'Ivoire's 2-1 win over El Salvador with Kolo Toure - who
had struggled with malaria before the tournament - and Max
Gradel being replaced by Didier Zokora and Yaya Toure.
Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni recalled Makoto Hasebe
after the captain recovered from a knee injury to make just
his third appearance for club or country this year.
Hasebe started as one of two holding midfielders alongside
Hotaru Yamaguchi, while Yuya Osako got the nod in Japan's
most troublesome position: centre forward.
Of the four strikers in Zaccheroni's squad, Osako was the
only one yet to have scored for Japan in 2014 but started
at the point of their attack ahead of Shinji Okazaki, Yoshito
Okubo and Yoichiro Kakitani.
Okazaki started on the right wing, while Okubo and Kakitani
were named on the bench.
Cote d'Ivoire had 59.7 per cent possession in the first half
with the Africans starting stronger, as Bony received the
ball in the box before his shot was deflected past the post
in the sixth minute.
But Japan edged their way into the game and in the 16th
minute they hit the front.
Yuto Nagatomo collected a throw-in and fed Honda on the
edge of the box, and the Milan man slipped away from his
marker and fired a thunderous strike into the top corner.
Atsuto Uchida could have made it 2-0 five minutes later but
the full-back's powerful drive was parried by Boubacar
Barry, before Cote d'Ivoire's goalkeeper was almost chipped
While the Elephants had more of the ball, they generally
struggled to break down Japan's well-organised defence and
their best opportunities came on the counter-attack.
After Yaya Toure and Arthur Boka just missed the target
with free kicks, Gervinho got free on the break in the 34th
minute only for a scrambling Maya Yoshida to block his shot
with a sliding challenge.
Honda slalomed through the opposition defence soon after
only to watch his deflected shot loop over the bar, while
Cote d'Ivoire had a couple of half chances to Salomon Kalou
and Boka but were unable to beat Kawashima.
After a frantic first half, the second started slightly slower
but in the 57th minute Cote d'Ivoire had a penalty claim
ignored after Yaya Toure's drive into the box ended with a
stumble following Yoshida's sliding challenge.
Drogba was brought on in the 62nd minute for Serey Die and
almost created a goal immediately with a back-heel to
Gervinho before Japan's defence scrambled the ball clear.
But Cote d'Ivoire fans did not need to wait long for an
equaliser with Bony getting between Yoshida and Masato
Morishige to nod Aurier's fine cross past Kawashima in the
A cross from Aurier set up Cote d'Ivoire's second goal soon
after but Kawashima would have been unhappy with his
effort, failing to stop Gervinho's header despite getting
two hands to the ball at the near post.
Kawashima did better in the 82nd minute, parrying Drogba's
free-kick away, while the striker had a shot deflected past
the post soon after.
But it mattered little as Cote d'Ivoire moved into second in
Group C behind Colombia ahead of their clash on Thursday,
while Japan face Greece on the same day.