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Yaya racing against time

Recife: Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure is struggling to shake off a hamstring injury in time for their World Cup Group C opener against Japan on Saturday, with his likely absence compounded by the return to fitness of Blue Samurai captain Makoto Hasebe.

The three-time African Player of the Year picked up the injury in April playing for Manchester City as they went on to win the English Premier League title.

He joined up late with the Ivory Coast squad after undergoing treatment in Qatar and missed the two warm-up matches in the United States where the Africans lost 1-2 to Bosnia but beat El Salvador by the same score.

Toure’s absence for the match against Japan, their likely main rivals for a knockout berth with Colombia tipped to win the group and Greece expected to struggle, would be a huge blow for the Ivorians.

The 31-year-old’s powerful bursts from midfield, leadership and goal-scoring ability are enough to give sleepless nights to a defensively liable Japanese side.

“We will try and do everything to ensure he can play,” Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi told reporters this week ahead of Saturday’s clash at the Pernambuco arena in Recife.

Serey Die is expected to fill the void if Toure fails to make it and his robust style would help give the weak defence of the Africans better protection.

Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni has similar defensive headaches with warm-up wins over Zambia and Costa Rica earlier this month again showcasing their inability to keep clean sheets.

Hasebe’s return from a long-standing knee injury to protect the vulnerable back four is a welcome boost and he is expected to slot in alongside the slow, but steady playmaker Yushito Endo.