Dutch passport snub spurs Kalou
If things had turned out differently, Chelsea's Salomon Kalou would have been turning out for the Netherlands today at the ING Cup at the Hong Kong Stadium today. Instead, Kalou will be hoping to fire Ivory Coast to victory against a country which once turned him down.
Kalou will come up against some familiar faces when Ivory Coast take on the Netherlands in another crucial build-up to next week's Olympic football tournament. In the earlier game, Cameroon will face the United States with both teams looking for a morale-boosting victory.
On Tuesday, Kalou will turn 23. Born in Oume, the attacking midfielder played three seasons in the Netherlands for Feyenoord (2003-2006) and pursued the idea of becoming a Dutch citizen on the urging of his family who believed he had better prospects playing for the 'Oranje' than turning out for the country of his birth.
Having never played for Ivory Coast, Kalou stood a great chance of representing the Dutch national team whose former coach Marco van Basten was a great admirer of the young player. An official application was made but Dutch government officials were against accelerating the process.
It was not to be, and Kalou gave up the idea and made his first appearance for the Ivory Coast in February, 2007. But he still has feelings for his former country of residence.
'Holland are a really good team and they have many great players. These are the guys you pay to go and watch. It will be great just to be on the same pitch as them,' Kalou said.
'We need to show we can compete with them and learn, so that we can go to the Olympics with confidence,' added Kalou who has already played more than 100 games for Chelsea since joining in 2006 and who picked up a Champions League runners-up medal in May.
The Dutch, who are likely to start with both Roy Makaay and Ryan Babel, will start as favourites. They have looked the best team in the competition and their 2-0 win over Cameroon on Wednesday will have given them confidence. Liverpool's Babel came on only after half-time in the opener and played a part in both goals, scoring the first and then turning provider for Makaay.
'What's great is that we have 18 really strong players in our squad which allows us to play a variety of different line-ups and tactics,' said Dutch national team player Urby Emanuelson, who believes his side's strength in depth could be decisive against the Ivory Coast.
'When you have so many good players, anyone on the bench can make a positive impact on the game as was the case against Cameroon. It's good to win these types of games as it helps build confidence within the team,' added Emanuelson who was part of the Dutch side which won the Uefa Under-21 championship in 2006.