Now a veteran of the Côte d'Ivoire national team at 28 years of age, Salomon Kalou is coming off another successful year of European club football, and should be a mainstay in the Ivorian attack in Brazil.
As Africa's top ranked side, Les Éléphants once again have high expectations heading into an international event but the Lille forward, who played in three matches in South Africa four years ago, cautions supporters that advancing from Group C against Greece, Japan and Colombia will not be a simple task.
Do you feel great anticipation as we near one month to go until the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™?
Yes, I 'm really looking forward to it. We worked hard through the campaign to experience this event, and as it approaches the more impatient I get. I'll see my friends in the team, there will be a training camp in the United States and then friendlies (against Bosnia and Herzegovina on 30 May and El Salvador on 4 June), which all lead up to the start of the World Cup.
How do you feel after another season in Ligue 1 with Lille?
Very good! First, I have not been injured this season, and as Lille did not play in Europe, I had the championship and two national cups to manage, so most of the time I only played once a week. I think I had a good season with my club, playing regularly, and I was able to boost my confidence with regular goals and assists. We had a very good season, and so I feel great going into World Cup preparations.
Sabri Lamouchi is a coach who does a very good job. He has an approach that suits the quality of the group.
Some in Côte d'Ivoire see your World Cup draw as 'easy'.
It is a mistake to say that. Tell me that the group is open and even, I agree with that. We have a chance and opportunity to qualify for the knockout stages, I also agree. But to say that this is an easy group - no! Greece, for example, are a very strong team. They concede few goals, and over the last ten years they have been in the finals of many competitions. They are very difficult to play. Japan are one of the two or three best teams in Asia, and they also have experience in major tournaments. They're a very good team, very strong technically. The Colombians are back in the finals after a long absence, so they'll want to show what they can do.
But Colombia could be without Radamel Falcao.
True, but even without him, they have high-level offensive weapons such as Jackson Martinez, Fredy Guarin and James Rodriguez. They are a team with a tradition of playing good football. They are the heirs of Asprilla and Valderrama.
Supporters have been critical of coach Sabri Lamouchi. What's the mood with the team?
Everyone in Côte d' Ivoire has an opinion, but I want to clarify one thing: Sabri Lamouchi is a coach who does a very good job. He has an approach that suits the quality of the group. What he says and what he does is very consistent. His talks before the match are intelligent. This may be a young coach without a lot of experience, but I can assure you that this is the coach we need. I am convinced that if we make a good run in Brazil, the critics will disappear.
Ivorians like Gervinho, Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba and yourself have played many games this season, but others have not won regular places this season. What are your thought on that?
For those who have had a normal or busy season, there will be beaches during the course of recovery in the United States. And for those who have played little, this is not necessarily a disadvantage to reach the World Cup with some freshness. The course of training and playing friendlies can put everyone in the right rhythm.
What are the hopes of Côte d'Ivoire in Brazil?
This will be our third World Cup. The first two times the groups were very difficult and we failed to advance. This year, the draw was less hard, but again, our group is anything but easy. We will of course focus on trying to get past the first round. And if we manage that, we try to go as far as possible.
You could have played for the Netherlands, but you opted for Côte d'Ivoire.
Yes, it's true. I was playing for Feyenoord Rotterdam, and my coach called Ruud Gullit. When it came to choose my nationality, the coach of the Netherlands was Marco Van Basten then. Such names, of course, leaves no one indifferent. But I opted for Côte d'Ivoire, and I do not regret it.