Brawn vs. pace in Ivory Coast-Japan

RECIFE, Brazil (AP) — It’s a contest of brawn and bravado against pace and finesse.

The muscular Ivory Coast team could not be more different at first glance from the compact Blue Samurai of Japan.

One thing the two teams meeting in today’s opening Group C match have in common: crowd-pleasing flair that translates into goals.

Neither are footballing giants but both contain their share of genuine stars: Manchester City’s Yaya Toure and former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba for Ivory Coast, AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda and Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa for Japan.

Ivory Coast have age going against them: Toure is 31, Drogba 36 and defender Didier Zokora is 33, making them old men in footballing terms. Toure is coming off a grueling league campaign with Manchester City, where he won the Premier League, and suffered a hamstring injury in the last match of the season.

“He’s still in a recovery phase and everything’s going well,” Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi said. “But he’s not yet at 100 percent.”

Japan is younger and possesses boundless reserves of energy but has shown baffling spells of inconsistency. They have honed a dangerous attack under Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni yet succumb to sudden defensive lapses — something for which the Africans will surely look to punish them.

Zaccheroni acknowledges Japan needs to work on its “concentration” — but insists letting in goals is the price to be paid for a style geared at scoring them.

“If you score three goals against Belgium you must be prepared to give up a couple,” Zaccheroni said, referring to a thrilling November friendly in which Japan edged a strong Belgian side 3-2 on opponent turf.

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