The chance to take part in the Olympic Games is a dream come true for any athlete. Providing the perfect stage to compete on, the Games attract sportsmen and women from every corner of the globe, each of them eager to excel in front of the watching world.
The players representing the 16 nations competing in the Men's Olympic Football Tournament are no exception. This year's event has brought together some of the world's finest exponents of the game, among them Salomon Kalou, the Ivorian forward who began his career in the Dutch league and now turns out for English powerhouses Chelsea.
Just hours after a promising but ultimately fruitless debut against Argentina, the 23 year old spoke to FIFA.com about his first taste of the Olympic experience, Côte d'Ivoire's chances of success and his dream of exacting revenge against Argentina in the final.
FIFA.com: Salomon, having played in some big competitions for various teams, can you tell us how the Olympic Games compare?
Salomon Kalou: It's a wonderful experience for me personally and for the team. This is the first time we have appeared in this tournament and we couldn't wait to get out on the pitch and start playing. To me it's like playing in a mini World Cup.
Children usually dream of playing in the FIFA World Cup™ finals but how important were the Olympic Games to you as a young fan?
The Games are a big event in Côte d'Ivoire and people in Africa have always watched them, particularly when Nigeria and Cameroon won. Now it's our turn to get a lot of support and the fans believe in us. It's very difficult for an African team to win the World Cup, but the continent has already won the gold medal a couple of times and I hope it's our turn this time.
Do you play any other sport apart from football?
I like athletics and basketball but I don't do either. I love watching sport and it's great to see people doing different things and enjoying themselves at the same time. That's the most important thing.
Why don't you play other sports? After all, you must have the talent.
I don't (laughs). In my country the only sport that everyone wants to play is football. I used to copy my older brother too. I wanted to be like him. When I got older I was inspired by other players like Thierry Henry.
Would you like to meet other athletes in the Olympic Village?
I hope we get the chance to stay there. Everyone is dreaming of meeting the other athletes and having a good time together. That's what the Games are all about, right? I'd love to meet some of the sprinters, chat to them and find out how they're able to run so fast. I find all that behind-the-scenes stuff fascinating.
Returning to football now, which of the other players in the tournament do you admire?
There are a few but [Lionel] Messi really stands out for me. What he does is incredible and he's one of the world's best. I love players like him. He's young, talented and he's got the ability to carry both Barcelona and Argentina. I think he's a great example for other young players because he shows that if you work hard and focus you can be a big star. Messi proves that week in week out and it was really exciting to play against him.
Côte d'Ivoire received a big ovation from the crowd at the end of the game against Argentina. Why do you think that was?
Because we played against a great team and we didn't roll over. The fans were cheering for Argentina to begin with but then they started to get behind us. That's the great thing about football. You can change people's minds just by working hard. I felt very proud as we walked off the pitch.
You mentioned Nigeria and Cameroon's victories in 1996 and 2000. Can you emulate them this year?
Of course we can. When you play at this level and you're up against some of the big teams like Argentina, you have to give everything. And the harder we try, the better we play. If we can keep on developing and improving with every game, then we can reach the final. That's why the Serbia match is so important. It will show us how far we can go.
What would it mean to win a gold medal for Africa?
It would show that all the African sides are getting stronger and that it's not all about Nigeria and Cameroon. There are teams like us and Ghana who can also play good football in Africa and the good thing about us playing here is that we can show the way for other teams.
If you did manage to get to the final, who would you like to play against? Argentina, for a number of reasons. They are the best side, they won the gold medal last time and they beat us in our opening game. I want to play them again. That would be the best possible final for us. Of course, it wouldn't be easy but I can assure you we wouldn't make the same mistakes we did on our debut.
You seem very confident. Can you picture the gold hanging around your neck?
It's one of my dreams and let me tell you something, if I do win one, I'll be wearing it to every training session when I go back to Chelsea (laughs).