Having won 59 caps and scored six goals for Mali, and spent eight years in the top two tiers in German football, few can doubt the footballing credentials of attacking midfielder Soumaila Coulibaly.
The Borussia Monchengladbach player began his career with hometown club Djoliba Bamako, before signing for Real Bamako. Cairo giants Zamalek came in for him in 1999 and within a year, his talents had caught the eye of Bundesliga outfit Freiburg. In 207 games with the Breisgau club, the free-kick specialist amassed 37 goals. Then came a move to Borussia last season, one that allowed the 30-year-old help his new employers regain a place in the Bundesliga.
Things are going well for Coulibalyon on the international front too. Mali stand top of Group 10 in African Zone qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, three points ahead of runners-up Congo. And victory for Stephen Keshi's side in Sunday's match away to their closest challengers would seal their place in the next round. FIFA.comcaught up with Coulibalyonfor for a chat about Mali's chances of reaching the first FIFA World Cup finals to be held on African soil, and his goals with Borussia.
FIFA.com: Soumaila, Mali are doing well in their FIFA World Cup qualifying group and lead the section after four games. How do you see your situation?
Soumaila Coulibaly:We've won three of our four games and that means we can be relaxed about the future. It's just a shame we went down 3-2 to Sudan, the bottom team in the group. If we hadn't lost that game, we'd be six points clear of second place now.
Even so, Mali need to win in Congo to make sure of first place. I imagine you are not expecting an easy game.
No, of course not. Congo are our closest rivals in the group and they showed in their first match what a good team they are. We came through in that game 4-2 and naturally I'd be happy to see us win the return match by the same scoreline. After all, three points would take us through to the third and final round.
Including hosts South Africa, a total of six African sides will compete at the finals. Who do you see as the favourites to qualify for the big event?
You can never rule out the big names like Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire and Morocco, and they've been doing really well in the preliminary competition. Burkina Faso have won all their games in Group 9 though, and could spring a major surprise.
What do you think the finals represent for Africa and particularly for the host nation?
We are all very excited that the World Cup's going to be held in Africa. FIFA has taken a very significant step by awarding the finals to our continent and I'm sure Africa will put on a great show.
Your team-mates in the Mali side include the likes of Frederic Kanoute, Seydou Keita and Mahamadou Diarra, all of whom play for Spain's leading clubs. What kind of role do you play in the team?
We've got a real will to win and a lot of young players. I've been in the national side for some time now and I'm one of the veterans. My job is simple really: I do whatever the coach needs me to do and I try and help the team. Frederic, Seydou and Mahamadou do exactly the same thing.
You have just helped Borussia Moenchengladbach win promotion to the Bundesliga, but with German international Marko Marin in the side and Israeli Gal Alberman having now joined there is a lot of competition for places in the midfield. How do you see your position at the club?
I think I showed last season that the coach can rely on me. I always do my job whenever I play and what I need to do now is give it my all every weekend. If I can do that, everything else will follow.
Presumably, to stay in the national coach's thoughts, it's important for you to keep your place in the Borussia side.
It's always important for a player to be playing. I've always had opportunities in the side up to now, just as I did last season, although I didn't play as many games as I would have liked. Even so, I don't think I need to prove anything else to Mali.