Ivorians hit back to stun Japan

Headers by Wilfried Bony and Gervinho just 98 seconds apart ensured Ivory Coast got off to a winning start at the World Cup with a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Japan in Recife.

Gervinho, left, and Wilfried Bony were on target as the Ivory Coast beat Japan (AP)
Gervinho, left, and Wilfried Bony were on target as the Ivory Coast beat Japan (AP)

The Elephants left captain Didier Drogba out of the starting line-up but it was his arrival off the bench after an hour which coincided with the African nation finally converting their chances.

Japan's star player Keisuke Honda had put them ahead with an impressive strike after 16 minutes and, as Ivory Coast continued to miss chance after chance, it seemed their bid to qualify for the knockout stage for the first time would take an early hit as Colombia had beaten Greece in Group C earlier in the day.

However, Drogba's introduction gave their opponents something else to think about and, while they were doing that, Bony and then Gervinho both nipped in to convert crosses from right-back Serge Aurier - a reported target for Arsenal after they lost Bacary Sagna to Manchester City this week.

Despite 65 goals in 101 appearances for his country, the talismanic veteran striker was left on the bench as Swansea's Bony - 11 years his junior - was preferred up front, and an early shot deflected wide suggested that would prove to be the right decision.

However, having been afforded far too much time just inside the penalty area, AC Milan midfielder Honda shifted the ball from his right to left foot before drilling a shot inside a stationary Boubacar Barry's right-hand post.

Atsuto Uchida should have made it 2-0 after cutting in from the right but opted to go for goal and shot straight at the goalkeeper with team-mates well placed in the middle.

Ivory Coast, with Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure captaining the side but plainly not at his best after recovering from a hamstring injury, stepped up the pressure but failed to test goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, with Salomon Kalou heading over from six yards just before the break.

Either side of Bony making a mess of two headers early in the second half, Toure appeared to be brought down by Maya Yoshida but no penalty was awarded.

With frustration growing, Drogba was introduced and, within six minutes, his side were ahead - although the former Chelsea striker, who immediately teed up Gervinho for a half-chance, was not involved.

Bony equalised in 65th minute with a glancing header, before the former Arsenal forward beat Kawashima all too easily at his near post to stun the Japanese.