TORONTO -- The irony is not lost on Djibril Cisse.
The French striker moved to Greek giants Panathinaikos before the 2009-10 season, and he knew he had to have a whale of a season in order to impress French coach Raymond Domenech and be included in the France squad for the World Cup.
"I remained focused on my target, which was to be a champion, to be in the squad for the World Cup. It was what I wanted to do, but it was very difficult. But I did it," said Cisse in a one-on-one interview with 24 hours.
Cisse dominated the Greek league. He was named MVP. He led the league in goals.
He got the call-up.
And, what did that get him? He was part of the France team that went on strike, scored only one goal in three games, and returned to Paris not as heroes, but as a national embarrassment.
Now, Cisse wants to use the 2010-11 season as a fresh start to his career. That will begin Tuesday when Panathinaikos, the reigning Greek champs, face European giants Inter Milan in a preseason friendly at Rogers Centre.
"I think we have to put the World Cup into the past, and as a player I have to start something new," said Cisse. "We have to try and forget the World Cup. It is not something that we want to remember."
Cisse has been to Toronto, as part of the the Liverpool squad that played Porto in a 2004 friendly. As a youngster, Cisse was targeted to be the next great Liverpool striker, but he was plagued by serious injuries. The former French youth team star had to fight to re-establish himself, to get back to the national team.
Now he is one of the 23 players new French manager Laurent Blanc has blacklisted, told that they won't be welcome when France plays its next game.
So, Cisse is now 100% focused on helping Panathinaikos repeat as Greek league and Cup champs. And, after 10 days of training in Austria, the team jets to Amsterdam Friday, then connects to Toronto to face Inter, which is bringing most of its big names — the only noticeable absence being Dutch World Cup star Wesley Sneijder.
"Of course it's (Toronto) a great city, I played there with Liverpool. it was great," said Cisse. "We had a really good time there.
"It's an honour for us, we will try to do the best that we can, to win the game, to make it difficult for a very good team."
On Saturday, team members will hold several events with Toronto's enthusiastic Greek community.
Sebastian Leto, Panathinaikos' Argentine left winger, said he isn't surprised that the team has such a fervent following in Toronto. After all, the team has fan clubs everywhere, even in his native Argentina.
So, don't assume that the Rogers Centre will be dominated by fans wearing the black and blue of Inter. You'll see a lot of green shirts, too.
"It's very hard, we'll be very tired, but we will have time to recover for the game," said Leto of the long trek to Toronto. "I know that we have many Greek fans over there. To them, to see us, it is very important to them. It will be great for them. I think there are Greek fans everywhere. I'm from Argentina, and there are Greek fans coming from there."