By Toby Davis
RECIFE, Brazil, June 13 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast received a huge fillip ahead of the World Cup opener against Japan as marauding midfield presence Yaya Toure was passed fit to play by coach Sabri Lamouchi ahead of Saturday's Group C clash.
Toure, the three-times African player of the year, had picked up a hamstring injury in April playing for club side Manchester City as they went on to win the English Premier League title.
He joined up late with the Ivory Coast squad after undergoing treatment in Qatar and missed two warm-up matches in the United States, yet is set to return to marshal the midfield for the match at the Pernambuco arena in the northern city of Recife.
"I can tell you that all my players are physically ready to play tomorrow," Lamouchi told a news conference. "I can't say that all my players will be at 100 percent.
"We have had a number of injuries and health problems but everybody is available tomorrow."
With defence the Achilles heel of a Japan side that has kept only one clean sheet in their last nine games, Toure's return is a huge boost to The Elephants and a hammer blow to their opponents' already fragile backline.
The sight of Toure's hulking frame bearing down on a defence is one of the most impressive sights in the game.
While his ability to create goals out of nothing with a weighty swipe of his right boot could be a decisive weapon as the African country tries to make it past the group stage for the first time after falling short in 2006 and 2010.
The coach was rather more guarded, however, when discussing whether former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba would lead the forward line in what is likely to be the start of his international swan-song.
The 36-year-old has been a talismanic figure for his country, helping them qualify for the last two World Cups and five successive African Nations Cup finals, but he can no longer be assured of a starting berth.
With Swansea City's Wilfried Bony waiting in the wings for his chance, Lamouchi was asked if he had decided who would spearhead his attack.
He replied with one word - "Yes" And would that be Drogba? "You will see tomorrow."
There is a sense that this particular Ivory Coast squad has one more shot at making an impression on the world stage, with the current generation of players nearing the end of their careers.
Players such as Drogba and Toure, who have graced the finest stages of club football and picked up the biggest prizes along the way, have had international careers marked by frequent and bitter disappointment.
Getting the best out of those who have frequently fallen short while managing the pressure that comes from players so often failing to realise their potential, is a challenge Lamouchi will have to overcome.
"We know that these are great players and this a great nation but we need to build a collective identity," he said. (Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Patrick Johnston and Nigel Hunt)
- Sports & Recreation
- Ivory Coast
- Yaya Toure
- Sabri Lamouchi
- Manchester City
- Didier Drogba