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Last Updated: Monday, 17 May, 2004, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Sissoko's Spanish dream
By Phil Minshull
BBC Sport, Spain

Mali's Mohammed Sissoko in action for Spanish side Valencia
Mali's Mohammed Sissoko is a key player for Spain's Valencia

Last summer the most that Mali's Mohammed Sissoko dared to dream about was one day making his first team debut for Valencia.

However, in the last 12 months the Malian star has gone from being a surprise signing from French club Auxerre to being an integral part of the Spanish champions' squad.

The French-born midfielder, who is still only 19, now stands on the verge of adding another honour to the Spanish title with his club the favourites to lift Uefa Cup final on Wednesday against French side Marseille

"It's still hard to believe that all this has happened, I don't know if I'll actually get to play in the final, but regardless of whether I play or not it will have been a super season for me," Sissoko told BBC Sport.

"At Auxerre I never really had a chance to make the grade, thank God, I came here.

"It has proved to be a great move, at the start of the season, it was intended that I would be with the reserves and little-by-little learn what was going on, but, after just a short time (Valencia coach) Rafa Benitez decided to have me training with the first team.

I've no regrets opting for Mali, it's something I wanted to do and I am glad I did it.
Mohammed Sissoko

"I came here as a defender but over time I have adapted to playing in the midfield but, to be honest, I'm happy to play wherever I'm told to play," said the man known simply to his team mates as Momo.

All the indications are that Benitez will give Sissoko the chance to shine at some stage in Wednesday's match.

He has played him in 20 league games this season, and the majority of the matches in Valencia's Uefa Cup run, although he has often been used as a second half-substitute with the aim of running defences ragged.

Sissoko's performances for Valencia also ensured he came to the attention of Mali's former coach Henri Stambouli prior to the African Cup of Nations in January.

There had been overtures from France's junior international selectors but Sissoko decided to follow in the footsteps of Tottenham's Frederic Kanoute and play for the country of his parents.

"I've no regrets opting for Mali, it's something I wanted to do and I am glad I did it, I'm very proud to be playing for Mali," added Sissoko, who was a key factor in Mali reaching the semi-finals.

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