Ivory Coast v Japan: Dider Zokora warns 'key player' Yaya Toure will be ready after recent surgery
Midfielder underwent surgery at the end of the Premier League season
Saturday 14 June 2014
Two outsider teams, two star players on contrasting form, two sides of Manchester. It may seem obvious to distil Ivory Coast’s clash with Japan down to Yaya Toure and Shinji Kagawa but then their effect is just as clear.
The Ivorian midfielder proved himself one of the best players in the world this season; Kagawa remains a sparkling presence for his country, if not for his club.
Domestic issues further frame this contest. Toure required surgery at the end of Manchester City’s Premier League season, and by far the biggest question on the eve of the Japanese game regarded his fitness.
Former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Didier Zokora calmed nerves, as did some of the City star’s movement in training.
“I think Yaya Toure is ready,” Zokora said. “He’s the key player for Ivory Coast.”
The starkness of those words is almost understating it. After almost a decade in which a gifted generation of Ivorian players failed to fully maximise their talent, Toure is now the only star in anything like his prime.
Didier Drogba, after all, is 36 but still in the squad. Ivory Coast have even deeper problems than age, however, not least the question marks over callow manager Sabri Lamouchi.
A more stable Japan haven’t suffered these kinds of fluctuations. They are a technical and tight side, best typified by Kagawa.
His recent form has almost been the inverse of Toure’s. The playmaker has barely made an impact for Manchester United, but proved hugely important for Japan in qualifying, hitting four goals.
He touched on the difference on the eve of the tournament, and his comments banish many of the concerns over his ability to handle the stage at Old Trafford.
“I personally think it is a completely different kind of pressure," Kagawa said.
“When playing for Japan, it means that I carry my country on my shoulders and I feel a different kind of pressure as I am expected to do more when playing for Japan.”
The hope for his team is that the whole world finally sees the real Kagawa, and not just those in Germany and Japan.
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