Salomon Kalou has pinpointed the weight of expectation as the principal reason why the African contenders have struggled at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, with his own Côte d'Ivoire side among the teams to disappoint in their opening two games.
In superb form for Chelsea alongside Elephants colleague Didier Drogba last season, Kalou himself has seemed to lack sharpness at South Africa 2010. Placed out on the left by Sven Goran Eriksson for the meetings with Portugal and Brazil, the former Feyenoord winger only rarely got the better of his opponent in either match and never truly made his presence felt.
In this exclusive interview with FIFA, he blames “too much pressure” for the quality of his own performances and those of his fellow African players, while also discussing the Elephants’ two outings, Brazil, Drogba and the African challenge in this historic tournament.
FIFA: Salomon, what regrets are the Côte d'Ivoire players nursing following their first two games?
Salomon Kalou: I don’t think we pressed enough for the win against Portugal. We weren’t attacking enough, even if we had quite a few chances. When we played Brazil, we defended too deeply and let them have too much of the ball. You can't get away with that against a team like Brazil as it’s difficult to regain possession. You run after the ball, you start to tire and they automatically take advantage. Those are the regrets, but that’s also how you learn.
What exactly were the lessons you learnt against A Seleção?
Our tactics didn’t really work. We’d planned to wait for them in our half and then really go at them on the counter, but there you go – that’s football. Quite often you start out with a game plan and then have to change it during the match, or you find that your opponents have a better one than you because they're in better positions and show more maturity in their play. You mustn’t forget that we’re still a young team. This is only our second World Cup, whether we have talented players or not, and Brazil had more experience than us. They’re more used to those kinds of matches; they were less nervous and more patient.
Expectations were huge and we owed it to ourselves to perform well, but the pressure has caused us more stress than anything else and even inhibited our talents.
On a personal level, how did it feel to play against such a celebrated team?
It was a great experience and a match that will stay in my memory forever, even if we lost. Playing against Brazil in the World Cup is every kid’s dream and to have that dream come true made me happy. We learnt a lot and I’ll say it again, that’s all part of the process. We showed that we have a good, solid team. We’ll prove that again against North Korea so that we can go home with our heads held high if we end up being eliminated.
You talked about a learning experience, but Didier Drogba is 32 and this may be his last FIFA World Cup.
He’ll be 36 for Brazil 2014 and other players have already played at a World Cup at that age. Look at [37-year-old Cuauhtemoc] Blanco with Mexico, for example. If Didier is still in good shape, I hope he’ll be able to come along, assuming we qualify. He has enormous desire and he knows what he wants. He’s one of the best strikers in the world, with an exceptional career. We owe him respect. He’s a natural leader and having him with us is a huge bonus.
Have you been disappointed with the results of the African teams so far?
I think all of us have put lots of pressure on ourselves because this World Cup is being played on our continent. Expectations were huge and we owed it to ourselves to perform well, but the pressure has caused us more stress than anything else and even inhibited our talents. There have been a few players who haven’t been up to the standard required. Their abilities have been crushed by the pressure they’ve put on their own shoulders.