Ivory Coast 2, Japan 1

Drogba inspires Ivory Coast to win over Japan

Gervinho (left) and Didier Drogba celebrate Gervinho’s deciding goal in the 66th minute. (Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Gervinho (left) and Didier Drogba celebrate Gervinho’s deciding goal in the 66th minute.

RECIFE, Brazil — Didier Drogba came off the bench to inspire Ivory Coast to a 2-1 comeback victory over Japan in a Group C match on Saturday.

Drogba, who had been carrying an injury, came on in the 62d minute when his team was losing, 1-0.


Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi said it was ‘‘very correct to say when Didier Drogba came on the pitch, everything changed.’’

‘‘You could see that it was very influential when he was on the pitch,’’ LaMouchi said, highlighting the attention Drogba drew from Japanese defenders. ‘‘He created space for the players.’’

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The talismanic striker’s arrival immediately lifted the Ivory Coast team and Wilfried Bony and Gervinho scored with headers two minutes apart. Both goals were set up by curling crosses from defender Serge Aurier.

‘‘It’s true that after [Drogba] came in, they had more confidence,’’ said Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima. ‘‘It changed the match.’’

Lamouchi’s inspired substitution negated Keisuke Honda’s first-half goal that had given Japan the lead.


‘‘I didn’t think we were able to play as quickly as we normally play and needed to do,’’ Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said. ‘‘We really have to take stock of the situation rather quickly.’’

The 36-year-old former Chelsea star started for Ivory Coast in the last two World Cups, but neither of those sides made it out of group play. He probably lacks the fitness to play 90 minutes these days, but his impact as a substitute can be dramatic, as was shown on a rainy night in Recife.

Lamouchi said it wasn’t easy for him to leave Drogba on the bench from the start, but credited Drogba for the way he handled the decision.

‘‘To see the joy he experienced at the end of the match . . . I am convinced he’s a champion and we need him,’’ Lamouchi said.

Now the Ivory Coast is in good shape to advance to the second round for the first time. Next up is Colombia, the group leader by virtue of goal difference. That match is Thursday, as is Japan’s next test against Greece.

Japan had the better of the play in the first half, taking a lead through Honda’s hard left-footed strike from about 12 yards in the 16th minute.

Yuto Nagatomo slid a pass across the edge of the penalty area to Honda, who settled the ball cleanly with his right foot before belting his 21st international goal under the crossbar and inside the near post.

Japan had several chances to widen its lead in the opening 45 minutes.

Ivory Coast dominated the second half, but the sluggish-looking team was making little headway until the arrival of Drogba galvanized it. Within minutes, Bony’s angled header found the goal and then Gervinho scored with a near-post header that Kawashima should have saved.

The game marked the World Cup debut for Lamouchi, a 42-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent who was widely seen as a surprise hire in 2012.

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