Roma striker Gervinho completed a remarkable Ivory Coast comeback to beat Japan 2-1 despite a Keisuke Honda stunner.
Group C had begun on Saturday with Colombia flattening Greece 3-0, so this was an early play-off to see who would keep up with the South Americans. Alberto Zaccheroni’s Japan were the first to qualify for the World Cup and could count on two Serie A stars: Honda of Milan and Inter full-back Yuto Nagatomo. The Ivory Coast had Manchester City hero Yaya Toure back from a hamstring injury, but surprisingly opted to bench legend Didier Drogba.
Japan got off to a stunning start, as Honda showed disappointed Rossoneri fans what he could really do. He opened the scoring with a fierce left-foot strike under the bar, having cut in from the left flank.
Ex-Parma and Inter midfielder Sabri Lamouchi is now Coach of Cote d’Ivoire and his side fought back with several great chances, but Arthur Boka’s effort was beaten away and Salomon Kalou wasted a free header.
Drogba came off the bench and immediately the Ivory Coast appeared to be transformed. First Wilfried Bony got a glancing header to Serge Aurier’s cross, then 99 seconds later the game had been turned around completely.
Aurier was again the provider down the right, this time for Roma striker Gervinho’s head, continuing his fine form in Serie A this season.
Juventus transfer target Drogba almost added a third, his curling free kick beaten away by Kawashima.
Ivory Coast 2-1 Japan
Scorers: Honda 16 (J), Bony 64 (I), Gervinho 66 (I)
Ivory Coast: Barry; Aurier, Zokora, Bamba, Boka (Djakpa 75); Tiote, Yaya Toure, Serey Die (Drogba 61); Kalou, Bony (Ya Konan 78), Gervinho
Japan: Kawashima; Uchida, Yoshida, Morishige, Nagatomo; Hasebe (Endo 51), Yamaguchi; Okazaki, Honda, Kagawa (Kakitani 86); Osako (Okubo 70)
Ref: Osses (CHI)