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Didier Drogba starts on the bench for Cote d’Ivoire

Jan 26, 2013, 11:29 AM EDT

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For the first time in his international career, Cote d’Ivoire striker Didier Drogba was dropped from the lineup, the former Chelsea and Marseille icon left out of Sabri Lamouchi’s starting XI for today’s match against Tunisia. Anzhi Makhachkala beanpole Lacina Traoré was given the start and produced a nice backheel assist on Gervinho’s opening goal.

The move comes after an opening match that saw Les Elephants struggle to put away Togo, a team expected to finish at the bottom of Group D. Gervinho’s 88th minute goal salvaged a 2-1 result, but from a team that’s against favored to win the tournament, more was expected. Potentially as a result, Drogba and fellow stalwart Kolo Touré found themselves on the bench.

Drogba and Touré’s are two very different cases, though. Touré struggled against Togo and was understandably dropped, with midfielder Didier Zokora assuming the central defense role he has periodically occupied for the national team. Touré very well may have slipped enough to justified this move on form alone.

For Drogba, his first match struggles were less a result of his play than the tactics of his opponent. Not surprisingly, Togo paid an undo amount of attention to the Ivorian starter. As a result, his impact on the first game was marginalized.

A more viable explanation for Drogba’s benching is fitness. The 34-year-old has had only three days rest since the match against Togo. With three points booked, Lamouchi can afford to give his best attacker some rest. If the move backfires, Cote d’Ivoire can still go through with a win against Algeria, a match for which Drogba will be rested.

Now in the 67th minute, Cote d’Ivoire has a 1-0 lead, and Didier Drogba is getting ready to come on. With only 20 minutes of action today, he should be well rested for Wednesday’s match.

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