RECIFE (Brazil), June 15 (IANS): Superstar Didier Drogba gave Ivory Coast a huge lift after coming off the bench to enable his team to rally and beat Japan 2-1 in the 2014 Brazil World Cup Group C match here at Arena Pernambuco.
Drogba was left on the bench in the first half, in which AC Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda's goal gave Japan a 1-0 lead.
However, after Drogba came in the 62nd minute, the Elephants found the rhythm back as two headed goals by Wilfried Bony and Gervinho turned the game on its head, reports Xinhua.
In the 16th minute, Honda received the ball from a corner in the Ivory Coast area, opened his body and smashed the ball into the top corner with his left foot. The strike infused life in the match as the two sides hardly had any chance in the first 15 minutes.
Blue Samurai continued the momentum as Honda hit the target again in the 21st minute. One minute later, Atsuto Uchida found space on the Japanese right and neatly turned on to his left foot past Geoffroy Serey Die. He strike was saved by goalkeeper Boubacar Barry.
The Ivorians fought back afterwards. In 27th minute, Lille midfielder Salomon Kalou played a nice one-two before blazing his shot over the bar from distance. Eight minutes later, Arthur Boka smashed a shot from distance, but Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawishima made a good save. Bony followed up and hit the post, but was flagged offside. The 1-0 scoreline didn't change during the first half.
Drogba replaced Serey in the 62nd minute before his team's quickfire turnaround. The Elephants scored two times within the next four minutes.
In the 64th minute, Yaya Toure enlarged the play to the right side and it was a stunning cross by Serge Aurier on to the forehead of forward Bony who glanced past Kawashima. It was Aurier who sent a nice cross from the right side two minutes later as Roma's midfielder Gervinho headed the ball home.
Japan was seemingly affected by this sudden change and failed to create a scoring opportunity. Meanwhile, the Ivory Coast had most of the ball, but also without creating any more clear-cut opportunities.
Ivory Coast became the first African side to defeat Japan at the World Cup. With the golden generation of Yaya and Kolo Toure, Drogba and Didier Zokora all over 30, this could be their final appearance at the summer showpiece as they tried to reach the knock-out stage for the first time.
In the previous two World Cups, they have been drawn in two tough groups and were eliminated at the group stages after finishing third each time.
This is Japan's fifth straight World Cup. After a heartbreaking penalty kick loss at the last edition to Paraguay, Japan came to Brazil looking to avenge it. However, the loss in the opener shadowed their prospects of another Round of 16 berth.