Mali – Sissoko Better Then Viera
Rafael Benitez, Sissoko’s coach at Liverpool, believes that Sissoko has a great future ahead of him. “He could be better than Vieira. I don’t want to put pressure on him, but I believe he could surpass him because he runs a lot more than Vieira,” says the Spaniard. Benitez is very knowledgeable about Malian footballers, having previously coached Djimi Traore (now of Portsmouth), who became the first footballer from Mali to win the UEFA Champions League after lifting the trophy with Liverpool in 2005.
Diarra had no difficulty in choosing to represent the country where he was born and grew up: “For me, it is very important to wear the colours of my country’s flag on my wristband, which I wear during all matches to show that I am proud of my people.” Sissoko and Kanoute, on the other hand, were faced with the more difficult task of choosing between France, their country of birth which they had represented at U-21 level, and Mali, where they had family roots. “It was a difficult decision for me, but in the end I followed my heart. France won the World Cup in 1998 and have players that are known all over the world, whereas Mali are just starting to grow. I’m proud of my decision,” says Sissoko.
Kanoute’s decision was even harder to make because he had already been selected for France’s provisional squad for EURO 2004 in Portugal. “Because of my dual background, it was a difficult choice, but playing for Mali brought me closer to what I had always wanted – to help the underprivileged,” says Kanoute.