The 36-year-old came on as a substitute, just after the hour mark, to spark a come-from-behind 2-1 victory for his country over Japan in a rain-drenched Recife on Saturday.
But while Drogba, whose post-World Cup future is unclear, will be itching for a place in the staring line-up for the next game against Colombia in Brasilia on Thursday, his impact at the Pernambuco arena could well have marked his card. Coach Sabri Lamouchi was full of platitudes for Drogba after Saturday’s win but also made clear a lack of confidence in the imposing striker’s conditioning. “Part of leaving him on the bench was to do with strategy, part of it was his fitness,” Lamouchi said.
“The last time he played 90 minutes was a few months ago in Turkey and he’s had an injury since then.”
Drogba’s once automatic place in the team was filled by Wilfried Bony, who repaid his coach’s faith with the equaliser after Japan had taken a 1-0 half-time lead.
Bony has been knocking on the door of starting 11 selection for a while, scoring three goals in five World Cup qualifiers. Even though the Elephants did not score until Drogba came on, they set up several chances before his entry on the back of impressive pace – provided by Gervinho, midfielder Serey Die and flying fullback Serge Aurier for Bony and frontline partner Salomon Kalou.
Yaya Toure filled Drogba’s boots as the on-field leader and pointedly did not hand over the captain’s armband when Drogba came on in the 62nd minute.
It was Lamouchi who did the unthinkable at the African Nations Cup finals in South Africa last year by dropping the two-time African Footballer of the Year because he was not fit enough.
Then, Drogba was just coming off a two-months hiatus at the end of a brief spell in China and the coach stamped his authority on the team by putting the iconic player on the bench. This time Drogba is also playing catch-up with his fitness but having made such an impact after coming on against the Japanese on Saturday, there must now be a major temptation to hand him a new role – that of super sub.
(Editing by Nigel Hunt)