Not so long into the match, just when one thought both teams had settled, more so the Ivorians who had better possession and clear cut chances to open their account, a corner on the left was cleared by the defence conceding a throw-in near the corner flag. A throw in was played first touch slightly back and the ball passed into the edge of the penalty area.
Honda made a run onto the ball, took a touch and fired a left footed screamer to the roof of the net. The marking from the throw in was suspect, and no one picked up Honda’s run and there was no pressure to close him down as he took a shot at goal. Obscured, the goalkeeper did not even move as the ball whistled past him at the near post.
Japan contested every duel in midfield, with Kagawa and Honda growing in stature and trying to impose their game against the revered Yaya Toure and Tiote. The Africans attempt to make amends opened up their rear-guard as Japan began to carve openings and seeking to extend their lead. They let in crosses and shots from left, right and centre, quickly winning the balls back by excellent combative work and anticipation in the middle third.
It was at the front where their strikers did not pressurise the defence of Ivory Coast. This overloaded their midfield badly and they failed to utilise the possession and penetration they enjoyed. Toure’s compatriots took as much as they gave, being guilty of failing to beat the Japanese goalkeeper on numerous occasions. The Asians did not close down the crossers of the ball, neither did they charge at the shooters.
Due to the push forward, their central defenders played too far apart, but the score-line remained the same due to poor decision-making. One good thing from Ivory Coast was the versatility of the shape of their midfield, as they could play flat or with Tiote at the bottom of the diamond. This made their movements to be fluid in transition as they moved early into spaces and contracted quickly enough when they lost the ball.
There were devastating challenges in the second half as the Japanese upped their game and Ivory Coast turned amateurish. They produced a poor display that was characterised by carelessness, sloppy midfield play and wastage in front of goal. Japan did not have to fight much for the ball as Ivory Coast always wrapped it nicely and delivered to their adversaries.
That lack of impetus saw the introduction of Didier Drogba. His first contribution was a strong run on the right into the penalty box. The Elephants looked a different kettle of fish already and a ball won in the centre of the park was sent to the middle of the attacking third and then wide. The right back managed to deliver an inch perfect cross for Wilfred Bony to head the ball to the far post under a token challenge from a man behind him. The marking was pathetic
It was before the Japanese came to terms with the current events that the Africans produced their best passing spell of the half, from the defending third until they squeezed that ball to the right wing for a duplicate delivery of the cross. In similar fashion, Gervinho dived to head the ball in at the near post. The marking was again suspect, as was the goalkeeping. In both goals, no one made a consented effort to shut out the cross. The scorers had free headers and the goalkeeper did not command his back-line well enough.
What followed was a mature match management to kill off the match by winding the clock. Ivory Coast played a professional game, but lacked a killer punch that could have given the score-line representative of their dominance. They look a force to reckon with, but only time will tell.