Second-half headers from Wilfried Bony and Gervinho completed a Cote d'Ivoire comeback as they defeated Japan 2-1 on Saturday, reports Goal.com.
Keisuke Honda put Alberto Zaccheroni's men into the lead with a wonderful finish, controlling the ball in the box with his first touch then hammering into the top corner at the near post with his second touch.
Sabri Lamouchi's team were profligate in the first half but Didier Drogba's arrival in the second half sparked the Elephants into life and quickfire headers midway through the second half turned the scoreline on its head.
Full-back Serge Aurier created both goals with impressive crosses from the right with Bony and Gervinho taking advantage, although the latter benefited from poor goalkeeping from Japan's Eiji Kawashima.
Saturday's game was the first time Cote d'Ivoire have won their opening fixture at a World Cup as the African nation look to claim a maiden berth in the knockout stages in their third consecutive appearance at the global tournament.
The shock in the two starting line-ups was the absence of captain Drogba from Cote d'Ivoire's XI, after he failed to recover from a thigh strain suffered at training on Wednesday.
Bony took Drogba's spot up front, while coach Sabri Lamouchi made two other changes to the XI that began Cote d'Ivoire's 2-1 win over El Salvador with Kolo Toure - who had struggled with malaria before the tournament - and Max Gradel being replaced by Didier Zokora and Yaya Toure.
Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni recalled Makoto Hasebe after the captain recovered from a knee injury to make just his third appearance for club or country this year.
Hasebe started as one of two holding midfielders alongside Hotaru Yamaguchi, while Yuya Osako got the nod in Japan's most troublesome position: centre forward.
Of the four strikers in Zaccheroni's squad, Osako was the only one yet to have scored for Japan in 2014 but started at the point of their attack ahead of Shinji Okazaki, Yoshito Okubo and Yoichiro Kakitani.
Okazaki started on the right wing, while Okubo and Kakitani were named on the bench.
Cote d'Ivoire had 59.7 per cent possession in the first half with the Africans starting stronger, as Bony received the ball in the box before his shot was deflected past the post in the sixth minute.
But Japan edged their way into the game and in the 16th minute they hit the front.
Yuto Nagatomo collected a throw-in and fed Honda on the edge of the box, and the Milan man slipped away from Toure and fired a thunderous strike into the top corner.
Atsuto Uchida could have made it 2-0 five minutes later but the full-back's powerful drive was parried by Boubacar Barry, before Cote d'Ivoire's goalkeeper was almost chipped by Honda.
While the Elephants had more of the ball, they generally struggled to break down Japan's well-organised defence and their best opportunities came on the counter-attack.
After Toure and Arthur Boka just missed the target with free kicks, Gervinho got free on the break in the 34th minute only for a scrambling Maya Yoshida to block his shot with a sliding challenge.
Honda slalomed through the opposition defence soon after only to watch his deflected shot loop over the bar, while Ivory Coast had a couple of half chances to Salomon Kalou and Boka but were unable to beat Kawashima.
After a frantic first half, the second started slightly slower but in the 57th minute Cote d'Ivoire had a penalty claim ignored after Toure's drive into the box ended with a stumble following Yoshida's sliding challenge.
Drogba was brought on in the 62nd minute for Serey Die and almost created a goal immediately with a back-heel to Gervinho before Japan's defence scrambled the ball clear.
But Cote d'Ivoire fans did not need to wait long for an equaliser with Bony getting between Yoshida and Masato Morishige to nod Aurier's fine cross past Kawashima in the 64th minute.
A cross from Aurier set up Ivory Coast's second goal soon after but Kawashima would have been unhappy with his effort, failing to stop Gervinho's header despite getting two hands to the ball at the near post.
Kawashima did better in the 82nd minute, parrying Drogba's free-kick away, while the striker had a shot deflected past the post soon after.
But it mattered little as Cote d'Ivoire moved into second in Group C behind Colombia ahead of their clash on Thursday, while Japan face Greece on the same day.
Man of the Match: Yaya Toure (CIV)
As it happened
FULL-TIME: COTE D'IVOIRE 2-1 JAPAN. Two goals in two minutes was enough for the Elephants to claim victory from their opening group C match. It's heartbreak for Japan, who had to have been feeling good in the lead at half-time. The arrival of Didier Drogba seemed to light a fire under Ivory Coast as they scored two goals in quick succession thanks to the lovely support play of Serge Aurier.
90` + 6` That's it! The throw in is finally taken and Cote d'Ivoire hold on for the victory! It's a massive win for them as they look to reach the knockout stages for the first time in their history!
90` + 5` Cote d'Ivoire win a throw inside the Japan half, as their fans sing and dance the night away. The rain can't stop them from enjoying this!
90` + 4` The final chance for Japan goes begging, as the mess in the box is cleared and we've reached the four minute mark. It's back up the field and this may do it...
90` + 3` Japan don't seem eager to find an equalizer. They're struggling to keep the ball and can find little space in attack. Cote d'Ivoire resort to wasting time, as the stretcher is forced to come out for an injured player.
90` + 1` Back-to-back corners for the Elephants as they play with the ball near the corner flag. Four minutes to be added on here...
90` Japan finally manage some pressure but it's given away carelessly by Yamaguchi and Cote d'Ivoire break on a counter. Kalou runs it in too deep, but still tries a shot from a tight angle that's pushed over for a corner. They will be in no rush to take this.
88` Out of nothing, Japan win a corner. It's played into the area and Barry opts to punch it clear as opposed to catching the ball. It falls at the top of the box, and among a mess of bodies a Japanese player tries to put it on goal but it caught by an overhead kick. Appeals for a penalty, but nothing doing says the referee.
86` Substitution: Shinji Kagawa out, Yoichiro Kakitani in
86` Wicked deflection just wide! Kalou makes a nice run on the right and picks out an unmarked Drogba at the top of the area. His shot takes a big deflection, whipping just inches wide of the far post.
85` Japan can't get in possession! The Elephants win it back far too easily and are playing keep away at the moment. The Japanese seem to be lacking a sense of urgency as we enter the final five minutes.
83` It's a great effort by Drogba, struck with great power, but Kawashima gets across to push it behind. The ensuing corner is blown dead for a foul on Cote d'Ivoire in the area and Japan rush to take it.
82` Chance now for Cote d'Ivoire to add to their lead here with a free kick from about 30 yards out. Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure stand over it, but the Galatasaray forward seems to have won the war of words as he looks to take this free kick.
80` Japan begin to amp up the pressure, but there is far less space than they had in the first half. Will they be left to regret not taking more chances in attack earlier on?
78` SubstitutionL Wilfried Bony out, Didier Ya Konan in
78` Goalscorer Wilfried Bony is subbed off now as the Elephants look to close this one out. Hannover midfielder Didier Ya Konan is the one to replace him. His experience should help in their attempt to claim all three points from this match.
75` Substitution: Arthur Boka out, Constant Djakpa in
75` STAT ATTACK: Japan have never won a World Cup match in which they trailed (D1, L5).
73` JUST OFFSIDE! Endo plays a fantastic ball forward for Uchida who charges up the right. He shows his class with a lovely touch to bring the ball down, as he's in one-on-one with the keeper, but it's called on the offside.
71` The introduction of Didier Drogba seems to have injected life into the African side. He may not have played a role in either goal, but his presence appeared to give the team the confidence they were lacking. Nonetheless, this game has been flipped on its head!
69` In an attempt to find a way back into this game, Japan bring on striker Yoshito Okubo. The 32-year-old plays for Japanese side Kawasaki Frontale and has six goals in 57 appearances for the national side.
68` Substitution: Yuya Osako out, Y. Ōkubo in
66` Assist Serge Aurier
Again it's Aurier, and again he sends a fantastic ball into the area for Gervinho to head home at the near post. The goalkeeper Kawashima was well positioned, but he does very poorly in his attempt to try and keep that one out. He will want to have that one back.
65` AND BONY PULLS THEM LEVEL!
64`Goal Wilfried Bony
64` Yellow Card Masato Morishige
63` FANTASTIC ENTRANCE! Moments after coming on, Drogba creates the best chance of the second half for Cote d'Ivoire. He gets near the touchline and sends a lovely back-heel into the path of Gervinho who can't get his shot past Yamaguchi.
62` Substitution: G. Serey Die out, Didier Drogba in
62` A buzz goes through the crowd as fans begin to notice who is coming into the match. The board shows Drogba is coming on and the Cote d'Ivoire fans erupt! Can he help the African side find an equalizer?
60` STAT ATTACK: Japan have won both of their World Cup matches against African opposition, beating Tunisia 2-0 in 2002 and Cameroon 1-0 in 2010.
58` Yellow Card Didier Zokora
58` APPEALS FOR A PENALTY NOT GIVEN! Yaya Toure with another nice run to get behind the defence. He breaks into the area, but appears to be going to ground before the tackle of Yoshida. Nonetheless, the tackle isn't the greatest, but no penalty is awarded - much to the dismay of Didier Zokora who is shown a yellow card for his protests.
57` Lovely turn by Honda to beat Tiote! He makes it look so easy, escaping the tackle and running at the defence, but can't pick out a good final pass with options to either side and the danger is averted for Cote d'Ivoire.
55` It is Honda who takes it, but the cross is poor. He fails to get it past the first defender who relieves the pressure with a good clearing header.
54` Yellow Card Sol Bamba
54`Substitution: Makoto Hasebe out, Yasuhito Endō in
54` Moments later, Japan are back in attack. Okazaki gets past Tiote before Bamba rushes in and takes him down, giving Japan a free kick just to the right side of the penalty area. This could prove an excellent chance for Honda or Endo to whip it into the area.
53` Didier Drogba sighting! The striker is shown on the sidelines stretching. Meanwhile, Japan's most-capped player, Yasuhito Endo, comes on in place of Makoto Hasebe.
51` Was it a foul? Kagawa cuts in from the left and charges at the defence. He passes off before being taken down just outside the area, but nothing is given. The pass was a poor one, which perhaps factored into the decision, as Bamba intercepts and starts the Elephants in attack.
50` Although there have been no substitutions, it appears as if Cote d'Ivoire have moved to a 3-4-3 formation. Serey Die has slid back into defence, while Boka and Aurier push up to midfield. The necessity of this change has to be questioned. Their problems in attack are with quality, not numbers, while one less defender will leave them even more stretched at the back.
48` HOW DID HE MISS?! Wilfried Bony with a glorious chance in front of goal after a Gervinho cross, but he can't direct his header on target! It's as if they don't want to score. They're far too wasteful in attack, and if they aren't careful, they could find themselves in an even bigger hole.
46` And the second half is underway!
HALF-TIME: COTE D'IVOIRE 0-1 JAPAN. Keisuke Honda has the Asian side in front at the break, despite a strong half from the Elephants. Ivory Coast have enjoyed the bulk of possession, but are sorely lacking in quality in front of goal. Japan remain extremely well organized, forcing their opposition to work very hard for their chances, which haven't exactly been clear cut.
45` + 1` That's it for the first half action, as the Elephants momentum is interrupted, much to the delight of Japan.
45` Ambitious stuff from Boka. Relentless pressure from Ivory Coast here. The defender is forward again, getting on the end of a lose ball and firing from a tight angle. It's struck with real pace, but Kawashima collects and holds on.
44` GREAT DEFENDING! Yaya Toure is proving a real menace as this match carries on. He gets into the box and plays a hard pass across the face of goal, but Marishige is with Bony step for step, beating him to the ball and clearing it out of the area.
42` Salomon Kalou is found unmarked in the area. Boka picks him out with a lovely ball, but the Lille forward makes a mess of things, failing to direct his header anywhere near the goal. It's a poor attempt, a theme for Ivory Coast in this first half.
40` STAT ATTACK: Ivory Coast have suffered three defeats, compared to one victory, when conceding the first goal at the World Cup.
· 38` There's an electrifying pace to this match so far! Back come Ivory Coast through Gervinho. He picks out Bony at the top of the box but he mishits his shot and it rolls helplessly wide. Great chance for the striker who may be running out of time here with Drogba licking his chops on the bench.
36` BRILLIANT RUN FROM HONDA! The man with the golden hair prances through midfield, with the Elephants standing and staring. He uses the run of Kagawa as a decoy and has a go from 20 yards out that takes a big deflection, looping just over the bar with Barry pinned to the ground.
35` OFFSIDE! Cote d'Ivoire win a corner, that falls for Boka. He has a go from 30 yards out that somehow gets through the mess of bodies, but Kawashima stops it. The rebound is there for Bony, but he's called for offside. He takes too long to play it anyhow and ends up hitting the side netting.
33` Fine block by Yoshida. The Japanese defense caught out of position for the first time here, as Gervinho is played in, one-on-one with the Southampton defender. He tries a shot from just inside the area but Yoshida is positioned well to block the effort.
31` FIRED JUST OVER! Arthur Boka is the one to take it, and his left-footed attempt has Kawashima beaten, but he can't slot it under the bar. So close to an equalizer as the Elephants continue to press here.
30` Honda nearly through! He works a one-two with Osako, but the return pass is intercepted at the vital moment. Back come Cote d'Ivoire on the counter, and Gervinho is taken down just outside the area by a clumsy tackle from Okazaki. Chance here again for Yaya Toure.
28` Serge Aurier is doing everything right off the ball, getting into some dangerous areas, but can't provide a good final ball. He makes another fantastic run, but slips after receiving the pass and can't recover in time as Japan clear the danger. Back and forth we go in Recife!
26` FANTASTIC RUN FROM TOURE! As he does so often with Manchester City, the midfielder dances through the heart of the Japan team and gets into the area before trying to cut it back for Bony in the middle. The cross is blocked and Toure appeals for a handball but nothing is given by the Chilean referee.
24` Yaya Toure takes, and it's quite disappointing. The free kick was right up his alley, 20 yards out to the left of the goal, but his effort sails over the bar, failing to trouble Kawashima in goal.
23` Yellow Card Maya Yoshida
22` And just like that Cote d'Ivoire get back in attack. They are so dangerous on the counter. Tiote loses the ball in midfield but it falls for Serey Die who charges forward at the defence. He sidesteps Yoshida at the top of the box and gets taken down. Free kick in a promising area here for the African side as the Southampton defender is shown the first yellow card of the match.
20` UCHIDA NEARLY DOUBLES JAPAN'S LEAD!! The right-back gets past Serey Die with ease just inside the area and has a go from 10 yards out, but it's straight at Barry who fists it away before Kalou just manages to put the rebound behind for a corner. Japan playing some inspired football after Honda's opener!
18` STAT ATTACK: With that goal, Keisuke Honda becomes the first Japanese player to score a goal in consecutive World Cups. He had two in South Africa in 2010.
16` Goal Keisuke Honda
The Milan midfielder takes a pass from Nagatomo and beats the defender with his first touch before blasting his second touch into the corner with his illustrious left foot! Boubacar Barry was pinned to the ground. He had no chance at stopping that laser from Honda!
16` Assist Yuto Nagatomo
16` KEISUKE HONDA WITH A FANTASTIC FINISH! JAPAN'S STAR HAS THEM IN FRONT!
14` Great challenge by Aurier! Japan attack through Kagawa on the left. He lays it off for Nagatomo who always seems to get forward. He has options in the middle but can't get his cross through as the Toulouse right-back lunges in for the block.
12` After a rather lively start, the last couple of minutes have been quite uneventful. Japan are pressing up top, forcing the Elephants to pass it around in defence as they look for a way forward. The rain is starting to pick up here which hasn't helped matters much.
10` Japan, a well coached team, are keeping their shape well. Cote d'Ivoire have had some good pressure, but Japan are crowding the midfield making life very difficult on Yaya Toure and Serey Die as they try and distribute the ball.
8` Great early pressure from the African side. They have made their intentions clear early on, attacking through Gervinho and Kalou on the flanks, and certainly don't seem scared committing men forward.
6` NEARLY THE OPENER FOR BONY! Gervinho plays in the Swansea City strikers with a lovely through ball, but his first time shot takes a slight deflection, narrowly missing at the near post. Good defending from Morishige who was with him the whole way.
5` Serge Aurier gets forward now and sends a lovely ball into the six yard box, but Bony doesn't attack it and Japan are able to deal with the danger. That certainly looked like an inviting ball, in Didier Drogba territory, perhaps?
3` After some early Japanese pressure, the Elephants break on a counter where they are so dangerous. Kalou sends a cross in towards the far post, but Okazaki tracks back well to head it behind for a corner. Great pace to this match early on!
1` Cote d'Ivoire kick-off and we're underway in Recife! The Elephants, moving left to right, are sporting their all orange kits, with Japan playing in blue. The Asian side win the ball straight away and earn themselves a corner after an errant header from Serge Aurier.
Commentary & Report: Goal dot com