- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

BRUSSELS (AP) - Max Gradel capped an unlikely comeback for Ivory Coast against Belgium with a goal in the second minute of injury time to force a 2-2 draw Wednesday in the warm-up game for both World Cup finalists.

Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini and Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan turned early domination into a 2-0 lead for Belgium before a sell-out crowd of 40,000 at the King Baudouin Stadium.

Veteran Didier Drogba proved he can still weigh on any defense in the world with a late opportunistic goal, and Gradel stunned the crowd with his late equalizer.

“If you lead 2-0, you should never give this away,” Napoli forward Dries Mertens said.

Both teams left their top star on the bench at the start, with Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Drogba limiting themselves to late appearances.

Belgium, increasingly favored to go far in the finals, long underscored its potential with a staunch defense led by Vincent Kompany before the stunning collapse in the final stretch. For Ivory Coast, a standout performance of Gervinho stood out.

After dominating from the outset, Belgium took the lead in the 18th minute on a set piece made for the power of Fellaini. Mertens curled a corner into the box and the midfielder made space for himself to easily beat out-of-position Sayouba Mande.

Ivory Coast’s surprise starting goalkeeper was far from blameless on the second goal too when Nainggolan seemed to misdirect a low cross from the left and forced Mande to punch the goal into his own net in the 51st.

It was not over yet for Belgium - not with Drogba on the pitch. The Belgian defense badly cleared a cross and, out of a goalmouth scrimmage, Drogba put a foot to the ball and steered it through the legs of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to narrow the gap in the 74th minute.

Again, a bad clearance from a confused scramble set up Gradel for the late equalizer.

Ivory Coast plays in Group C and will face Colombia, Japan and Greece. Belgium is the favorite to advance from Group H, where it will play Algeria, Russia and South Africa.

Belgium came into the game under pressure after it lost its two last warm-up games, against Colombia and Japan.


Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/rcasert

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