Kalou feeling the pressure

Salomon Kalou is an African Cup of Nations veteran. At 29 this is his fifth tournament and as usual the pressure is on the Ivory Coast's golden generation.

The Ivory Coast kick off their campagn against Guinea and expectations once again are high as they uusally are for an African Cup of Nations.

"Everyone's getting prepared for it. People talk about nothing else, get together and check the TV works. People decorate their homes and everyone wears orange capes and orange shirts. They always do everything they can from home to push our country towards victory. It's a huge party, and you see everyone in the streets dressed in orange, white and green. People organise evenings to watch games together, and there are parties and music. It's a bit like a huge carnival across the whole country every time the competition is approaching.

Before he became a professional footballer Kalou was part of that infectious exitement but now he is rather more detached and his enthusiasm for afcon has somewhat faded.

"I miss that a lot. When you become a professional player, you lose a bit of that passion and you see the tournament differently – we're focused and have objectives. You lose the fun and festive side of the Cup of Nations; we just want to get stuck in and can't wait for the competition to start. When you're a fan, you feel that passion and you can feel the temperature rising little by little until kick-off in the first match. After that, you live every second of the competition very passionately. I used to love that atmosphere."

The Group D game with Cameroon will not feature international retirees Drogba and Eto'o. That will feel a little like Real Madrid against Barcelona without Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.

"Yes, it's true you could describe it like that. It's difficult to imagine. But it's a little like if you tried a few years ago to imagine Barça without Ronaldinho and Real without Zinedine Zidane, and yet today we have Messi and Ronaldo. Both teams always have new players who come in and take over. Even if the two teams will miss Didier and Samuel greatly, a match between Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon is always huge and it's been that way for a while.

There's a big rivalry between the sides and that will carry on, even after the retirement of those two great players.

"Both players pushed African football beyond its limits. Today, Eto'o and Drogba represent not just Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon but the success of an entire continent, and they've set an example for youngsters across the whole of Africa, and not just in football. The fact that they experienced success with their countries and also the big clubs they've played for has opened doors for all of us. Thanks to them, when an African player joins a club, people respect him more. They've set the best possible example of what you can expect from an African player.

"Having the best players isn't enough to win. You need to be organised and balanced to win a tournament. When you look at the records of all the biggest teams in history, Germany and Italy always go very far, and often all the way, because they always have good organisation and a winning mentality. And yet, neither of them has really had the kind of immense players Argentina and Brazil have had. It helps to have a great player, but it's not an automatic guarantee that you'll win tournaments. 

"It's clear that, when you lose a major asset like Didier, people don't see you as favourites so much because they reckon you're less strong without him.

"But we're still a solid side and we can be even better collectively and win the tournament. At certain times in the past, perhaps we relied too much on our individual players to the detriment of the team. In a few of the easier games, that was enough for us to win, but each time we faced better organised sides like Egypt or Zambia, we had trouble getting through. They were well organised and had a strong team, and we tried to respond to that with the talent of our individual players. It caused us a lot of problems."

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