Saturday’s World Cup action finished with a thrilling match between the Ivory Coast and Japan as it ended 2-1 in favor of the former. Keisuke Honda scored a screamer early in the first half, but after that, the Ivorian onslaught brought about second-half strikes from Bony Wilfried and Gervinho, who headed home the winner just three minutes after the equalizer.
The Ivory Coast started out slowly, and it showed when they allowed the goal, but their ability to push from that moment on really forced the Japanese back heavily as they could no longer find their true rhythm. Yaya Toure, Gervinho, Salomon Kalou and Wilfried all caused problems with their movement and ability to move on and off the ball. These guys helped to create chances, but the opposing defense somehow held their nerve.
The biggest difference-maker in this match arrived in the second half when legendary 36-year-old striker Didier Drogba entered the match. He almost had an assist with his first few touches but that did not pan out. Instead, his presence on the field brought about an exciting calmness that led his boys to score two goals both within 100 seconds of each other. He brings leadership, determination, intelligence, hustle and an overall relaxed but successful play on the ball.
Japan relied heavily on Honda to create, but all he could do was muster up his goal. Another attacking midfielder that was nowhere to be seen was Shinji Kagawa who was absolutely uninspiring tonight. Usually, his speed, technique, vision, passing and scoring abilities allow him to make sensational plays, but the Ivorians were up to the task of keeping him silent all game long.
Both sides played with a 4-2-3-1 but the difference was that Japan tried to play a bit more compact in the final third which made them easy to predict. As for the Ivory Coast, their possession in their own half without any pressure from the opponent allowed their offensive guys to make wide and quick runs which opened up the defense big time. Formations look similar, but it is all about how the coach utilizes his players.
Next up for Japan will be a game against Greece which also lost their opener against Colombia, 3-0. Whoever wins that one can give their nation hope of a second-placed finish after the third and final group stage game. The Ivory Coast will meet Colombia in an interesting battle for first place.