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Kalou undeterred by grim past experience

© Reuters 2002

By Brian Homewood

SIKASSO, Mali, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast striker Bonaventure Kalou will not turn his back on his country despite being sent to a military camp with the rest of the squad two years ago as punishment for a poor display in the African Nations Cup.

Kalou had no second thoughts about coming back for more despite the frightening and humiliating experience at the hands of the West African nation's then military government.

After their first round exit in Ghana, the Ivory Coast squad was flown straight to a military camp in the centre of the country.

In an action widely condemned by the football world, the players were held for a week, frog-marched and given lectures in patriotism.

A number of players from that team, including Marseille striker Ibrahim Bakayoko, have also returned despite the experience.

"Let's say it like this: I love my country and if my country needs me I will always come to defend its colours, no matter what," said Kalou, who plays his club football in the Netherlands with Feyenoord.

"It was a shame that we went to the military camp because we didn't make the second round. But you cannot be angry against your country. No matter how your country treats you, you have to be proud of it.

"It was a different government, a military government, and now things are quite different. I don't think that will happen again in my country.

Military Mentality
"Most people think football is a sport but the military mentality is different from what ordinary people think. It was a really difficult moment but we are trying to forget about it and concentrate on this competition."

The Elephants, perennial under-achievers at international level, are in danger of repeating their first round elimination after being held to a goalless draw by smaller neighbours Togo on Monday. Their next game is against defending champions Cameroon.

Although they have regularly produced talented players, the Ivory Coast have won the Nations Cup only once - in 1992 - and have never played at a World Cup.

They appeared to be on course to make their debut in Japan and South Korea but faltered in their qualifying group and eventually lost out to Tunisia.

Although Kalou was prepared to forgive the military experience, he was still critical of the team's poor organisation, which he feels more strongly after coming back from Europe and which he blames for their failure to live up to potential.

"We need another mentality, a winning mentality, I think. If we want to be a really great team we have to be stronger in the mind," Kalou said.

"At Feyenoord things go well but when I come here it is always different, everyone does what they like. It makes you lose your concentration and that's what happens every time."

"It's Africa and you have to deal with it."

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