Five matches in the tournament so far have seen teams lose a lead and ultimately lose. Like Uruguay earlier on Saturday, Japan experienced a full reversal in the space of a few minutes. And like Costa Rica, Ivory Coast were fully worth their recovery. It came via a shot in the arm provided by the man usually their captain –– Didier Drogba, relegated to the bench but sent on by Sabri Lamouchi after 62 minutes. Within seconds he had sown terror in the Japanese box with an elegant back-heel to produce a chance for Gervinho that was turned away by Kawashima. Two minutes later, a brilliant cross from the right by Serge Aurier was met equally well by Wilifried Bony for the equaliser. A minute further on, Gervinho had the ball in the net, again from an Aurier centre, and greatly helped by Kawashima’s poor handling. It gave Ivory Coast a 2-1 victory and made them the first African country to win matches at three different World Cups.
Many were surprised at Drogba’s benching but, with his stamina reduced at the age of 36 and Gervinho and Bony in form of late, it made far more sense to keep him in reserve. Watching Drogba encourage the Ivorian starting eleven in the tunnel before the game, I was reminded that a player many loved to hate in his Chelsea days (his foul-mouthed tirade to camera after the 2009 Champions League semi-final being the lowlight) is a thoroughly more admirable sort when wearing the orange of his native land. The way he almost dragged the Elephants to a draw in their first ever World Cup finals game against Argentina eight years ago showed how much playing for his country – still riven by sectarian and regional strife – meant to him. The frankness of his enthusiasm is unusual in a game where the personalities of players are normally refracted though the lens of flawless clockwork professionalism. Drogba will most likely start on the bench against Colombia, which will be a tougher match than Japan. He will most likely come on and make his mark when needed. And Drogba, by the looks of it, is perfectly OK with that. Because he knows what’s best for a team that desperately wants a good World Cup for once.
Posted by Oliver Farry