Two quick strikes two minutes apart early in the second half lifted Cote d'Ivoire to a 2-1 victory over Japan in their World Cup Group C opening match on a rainy Saturday night in Recife, Brazil.
"More than the opponent being better, we didn't play the type of football we know we can," captain Makoto Hasebe said in a TV interview. "We have four days to prepare as best we can [for the next match]."
Keisuke Honda gave Japan a 1-0 lead with a spectacular strike in the 16th minute, the lone goal of the first half.
But Cote d'Ivoire, playing in the World Cup finals for the third straight time but looking to advance out the group stage for the first time, struck back fast and in succession with a pair of headers in the second half.
Serge Aurier set up both goals with crosses, the first met by Wilfried Bony as the Swansea striker fought off defender Masato Morishige in the 64th minute. The second came two minutes later by Gervinho, who glanced it past the near post.
"Cote d'Ivoire was very fast," Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said. "We weren't able to put enough pressure on them."
Japan fought hard to net the equalizer but failed to breech the African side's defence, even after bringing on striker Yoichiro Kakitani in the 86th minute.
Japan will next face Greece on Friday in Natal. Greece lost its opening match earlier Saturday 3-0 to Colombia in Belo Horizonte.
Yasuhito Endo came on as a substitute early in the second half for Japan, extending his national record of international caps to 145.
The 28-year-old Honda, who had two goals at the 2010 World Cup, is looking for a sort of redemption at the World Cup after a disappointing season at Italy's AC Milan, where he scored just three goals in 16 league and cup matches after joining in January.
Japan had been stifled in midfield early in the match when its first scoring opportunity came after being awarded a corner kick. Cote d'Ivoire cleared the kick but in exchange gave Japan a throw-in near the same corner.
Shinji Kagawa, taking the throw-in from Yuto Nagatomo deep in the corner, flipped it back to the Inter Milan defender, who took it into space then connected with Honda just outside the box on the left side. Without hesitation, Honda turned took a step and blasted the ball into the upper left corner of the net past immobilized keeper Boubacar Barry.
Soon after, Japan almost doubled the lead, but Barry parried Atsuto Uchida's angled shot in the 20th minute.
The African side's best chances of the first half came on a pair of free kicks just outside the area. But both Yaya Toure and Arthur Boka sent their kicks sailing well over the bar.
Cote d'Ivoire's goals came soon after star midfielder Didier Drogba came on a substitute.