The Manchester City midfielder had been struggling for fitness since the end of the English Premier League season last month and Elephants coach Sabri Lamouchi had suggested on the eve of the game that the 31-year-old might not yet be fully fit.

However, while he started, veteran talisman Didier Drogba was left out as Swansea City's Wilfried Bony led the line at the Pernambuco Arena, flanked by Salomon Kalou and Gervinho in attack.

Masato Morishige was chosen to partner Maya Yoshida in the heart of the Japan defence by their Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni, while Yuya Osako, of German side 1860 Munich, was selected at the top of the attack.

Earlier on Saturday, Colombia defeated Greece 3-0 in Belo Horizonte in the other opening game in Group C, with goals from Pablo Armero, Teofilo Gutierrez and James Rodriguez.

Ivory Coast

Boubacar Barry Copa; Serge Aurier, Souleymane Bamba, Didier Zokora, Arthur Boka; Cheick Tiote, Yaya Toure (capt), Serey Die; Salomon Kalou, Wilfried Bony, Gervinho

Coach: Sabri Lamouchi (FRA)

Japan

Eiji Kawashima; Atsuto Uchida, Maya Yoshida, Masato Morishige, Yuto Nagatomo; Makoto Hasebe (capt), Hotaru Yamaguchi; Shinji Okazaki, Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa; Yuya Osako

Coach: Alberto Zaccheroni (ITA)

Referee: Enrique Osses (CHI)