Ivory Coast vs. Japan, 2014 World Cup: A primer for new fans

Ivory Coast and Japan face off in their World Cup opener, with both knowing a victory would greatly boost their chances of making the knockout stages.

SB Nation's 2014 World Cup Bracket'

Update: Ivory Coast beat Japan 2-1

Group C is one of the most open at the World Cup, meaning it could make for some surprisingly gripping viewing. Colombia are favourites to progress as group winners, though the other three sides all have a realistic chance of nicking second place. That makes Japan's opening game against Ivory Coast all the more important, as they both look to start with a win and set the tone for a successful tournament.

Playing styles

This is only Ivory Coast's third World Cup, having been eliminated at the group stages in Germany in 2006 and South Africa in 2010. However, they're almost certainly the strongest African side in Brazil, and boast a handful of genuinely top class players. Alas, some of their best are now the wrong side of 30, making this almost certainly their last chance at a memorable World Cup before retirement.

Much of their play is based around the industry of their attacking midfielder Yaya Touré, who looks to join a deep, very defensive central midfield duo with a mobile, quick front three. They look to sit compact defensively and spring forward into space on the counter-attack, using the great pace and skill of their wingers Gervinho and Salomon Kalou to do so.

As for Japan; this is their fifth appearance at the World Cup, having played in every edition since France 1998 -- and hosted the thing alongside South Korea in 2002. They've managed to get out of the group stages on two occasions, though never further than the last 16. They're certainly capable of a repeat performance this time around, and, thanks to the imagination of their former Serie A winning Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni, they should be pretty easy on the eye.

They play a brand of high-tempo, high-pressing football, which means they're always trying to win the ball back as high up the field as possible, and distribute the ball to their attacking players before their opponents can retreat into a solid defensive shape. They're a less physical, pacey team than Ivory Coast, instead relying on close control and neat interchanges in the attacking midfield zone to create goalscoring chances.

Ivory Coast's stars

Ivory Coast's most notable star is captain Didier Drogba, who has picked up over 100 caps and scored 65 goals for Les Éléphants. At his peak he was one of the best strikers in the world, thanks to his ruthless power, outstanding aerial ability and clinical finishing. He's now 36 years old and national coach Sabri Lamouchi has reportedly told him his starting spot isn't guaranteed, though he's still a force to be reckoned with.

Though Drogba is the most famous, Ivory Coast's best player at present is undoubtedly Yaya Touré. The 31-year-old looked like a purely defensive midfielder when he joined Barcelona back in 2007, but since joining City three years later he's established himself as a great attacking force too. His giant frame means he's comfortably capable of brushing opponents aside, as well as lashing the ball in from all distances. If Ivory Coast are to have any success, Touré will have to be on top form.

Japan's stars

Key to their system is their attacking midfielder Keisuke Honda, who is the embodiment of the technical style that Zaccheroni has implemented since taking charge. Operating centrally but with the freedom to drift across the pitch, he'll look to maximise his outstanding close control and awareness to create intricate combinations with Japan's other three attacking players.

One of said attackers is Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa, who plays on the left of their attacking midfield band. However, rather than being a classic winger who looks to use pace and power to deliver accurate crosses into the box, Kagawa's game is more based on close control and intelligent movement. He'll try to drag opposition defences out of shape by drifting inside off the flank, and get into goalscoring positions himself.

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