Ivory Coast are waiting on the fitness of key men Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure ahead of their FIFA World Cup opener against Japan.
Veteran striker Drogba handed coach Sabri Lamouchi a scare in preparation for the Group C match at Recife's Arena Pernambuco on Saturday when he limped out of Thursday morning's training session.
The 36-year-old collided with defender Didier Zokora and sustained a knock to his thigh and Lamouchi is likely to turn to Swansea City's Wilfried Bony to lead the attack if Drogba is unable to fully recover in time.
Toure's own thigh injury is a longer-term complaint that he sustained during Manchester City's 3-2 defeat at Liverpool in April before returning to inspire Manuel Pellegrini's team to the Premier League title.
Nursing himself through those late-season heroics came at a price for Toure and his national team and the 31-year-old midfielder has not taken part in any of the Ivory Coast's recent warm-up friendlies.
If Toure is passed fit, as brother Kolo has been despite a recent bout of malaria, he will pose a key threat to Japan - a vibrant and inventive side under the guidance of wily Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
But Japan's own midfield lynchpin Keisuke Honda believes it would be foolish to focus on the potential impact of one player when faced with the Ivory Coast, who failed to progress beyond the 2006 and 2010 World Cup group stages despite having a lavishly gifted group at their disposal.
"No doubt that he (Yaya Toure) is the player we need to be aware of, but they also have several players who play at the top level alongside him - strikers, central midfielders and defenders," Honda said. "So we need to beware all of those players as well."
Honda himself hopes to make a statement at the World Cup having suffered a difficult start to life at Milan following a January switch to Serie A from CSKA Moscow.
Zaccheroni this week offered public backing amid questions over the playmaker's form and Honda outlined the rigorous schedule he has endured to make sure he hits peak World Cup fitness.
"I'm working on it so hard," he said.
"I worked myself into a condition where I accumulated fatigue intentionally during the camps and I'm trying to recover from that fatigue now.
"There are times that I can reach the best condition when this procedure offsets the balance of playing games, but it is really difficult and it is not the kind of thing you can always do as you like."
Ivory Coast defensive midfielder Cheick Tiote could have an important role in shackling the creative talents of Honda and Shinji Kagawa.
Amid the star names he shares a dressing room with, the Newcastle United player believes Lamouchi has the right approach to slot the Ivory Coast's impressive squad together into a formidable unit.
"He's a good manager and a good coach," Tiote told the Newcastle Chronicle. "He speaks with everybody.
"When some players didn't play he went to speak to them. He tells them they have to be ready because the national team is not just about one player.
"Everyone has to be ready and when you get the opportunity you have to take it.
"He's a good manager who talks a lot with the players about what we have to do on the pitch."
Japan head into the game having won their last five games, a run that included a 3-2 victory over Belgium in Brussels.
|Coach: S. Lamouchi|
for S. Dié 62'
for A. Boka 75'
for W. Bony 78'
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