BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Didier Drogba may have to get used to playing the role of super-sub for Ivory Coast at the World Cup.
The two-time African Player of the Year started on the bench against Japan in Ivory Coast’s opener but his introduction in the second half turned the match around, inspiring a comeback from 1-0 down to a 2-1 victory.
There have been calls for Drogba, the country’s most famous player, to be recalled for Thursday’s match against Colombia but coach Sabri Lamouchi wouldn’t say whether the 36-year-old striker had done enough to merit starting.
“I am in charge of a group, not one player,” Lamouchi said Wednesday through a translator. “If you are talking to me about an idol like Didier, he knows how important he is to the team.
“We are in complete agreement — obviously he might be disappointed not to start, but his investment in the group shows he is very dedicated.”
Despite Drogba’s 12-year international experience, pedigree and proven appetite for the big occasion, Lamouchi had concerns about the player’s match sharpness and opted to start with Wilfried Bony as the lone striker against Japan.
Within four minutes of coming on, though, Drogba’s presence had helped the Ivorians score two goals.
There has only been one topic of conversation since, and Lamouchi can’t get away from it.
“The objective is to prepare for this match against a strong Colombia team,” said Lamouchi, as yet another question was fielded about Drogba. “We don’t want to lose our concentration and think about other things. We want to prepare to play this great team.”
Lamouchi added that it would be an “option” to start Drogba alongside Bony.
A win for Ivory Coast could secure progress from its group for the first time at a World Cup. It would also give the likes of Drogba, the Toure brothers and Didier Zokora — players who made the national team relevant in international football nearly a decade ago — a chance to finally make their mark on the biggest stage of all.
Lamouchi bridled at the suggestion that it was the biggest match in Ivory Coast’s history, however.
“I can’t believe you are saying it’s the most important game — this is only the second game of the World Cup!” he said. “This is not the end of the world if we don’t win. We will have a third match to play.”
Midfielder Didier Ya Konan trained alone on Wednesday and is not available for the match but left back Arthur Boka has shrugged off a back problem.
Colombia also won its first game, beating Greece 3-0, and will be playing Ivory Coast for the first time.