By Patrick Johnston
June 15 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi's attacking endeavour was rewarded as his four-pronged frontline made light of the team's defensive frailties to beat Japan 2-1 in their World Cup opener on Saturday.
Trailing 1-0 with 30 minutes left, Lamouchi threw on talismanic striker Didier Drogba to play up top with Wilfried Bony, Gervinho and Salomon Kalou and the move resulted in two quick goals and three points from the Group C clash.
Right back Serge Aurier, given far too much freedom down the right, swung in a cross for Bony to level in the 64th minute before his next effort found Gervinho, whose header squirmed past Eiji Kawashima in the Japan goal.
Lamouchi's brave decision to switch his frontline was not matched by his counterpart Alberto Zaccheroni, whose Japan side meekly surrendered in a woeful display after Keisuke Honda had struck a brilliant 16th-minute opener.
The Japanese struggled to hold the ball in the forward positions with Shinji Kagawa failing to make an impact, while ineffective striker Yuya Osako was finally withdrawn only after the Africans had snatched the lead.
By that time, though, the momentum was lost and a ragged Japan never looked like finding an equaliser with the Africans growing in confidence as the game wore on, giving them belief they can reach the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time.
A vulnerable backline was expected to be the main hindrance to that ambition, with concerns backed up by a sluggish opening 20 minutes for the Africans in Recife where Japan enjoyed plenty of possession and probed intently.
But Honda's dazzling left-foot strike only seemed to spark the Ivorians into life as the Asian champions were guilty of overplaying and being careless in possession.
Gervinho was one of those who became more influential as the game worn on with some darting runs through the middle, while Aurier was able to push forward with Kagawa guilty of not tracking back to help the under-pressure Yuto Nagatomo.
Although not having a hand in either goal, the introduction of the 36-year-old Drogba undoubtedly gave a lift to both the Ivorian players and supporters with the equaliser coming only two minutes after he came on.
"What we needed, we needed to equalise, we could not simply be subject to the Japanese fast pace. You realised after the first half that they get tired," Lamouchi told reporters.
"Didier Drogba was not simply intended to come and put pressure on them, we wanted to be a bit more direct and we equalised a few minutes after he came on."
With all the attacking options on the field, African player of the year Yaya Toure had a more defensive role in his comeback from injury, with the captain completing 90 minutes in an uncharacteristically quiet game.
But as his fitness improves, he is sure to revel in Lamouchi's gung-ho plans against Colombia and Greece. (Editing by Ed Osmond)
- Sports & Recreation
- Didier Drogba
- Wilfried Bony
- Serge Aurier
- Shinji Kagawa
- Salomon Kalou
- Keisuke Honda