Former Liverpool midfielder Mohamed 'Momo' Sissoko believes Everton's Abdoulaye Doucoure could be key if Mali are to qualify for the World Cup for the first time.
Doucoure is set to make his Mali debut against Tunisia on Friday in the first leg of their World Cup play-off.
The 29-year-old had rejected several previous call-ups by Mali as he hoped to play for France, the country where he was born.
"I think he's the top player now he's joined the national team of Mali and I think it's the best moment for him," Sissoko told BBC Sport Africa.
"He will bring all the experience, he will bring all his assurance, he will bring lots of good things for this team, this young team.
"For me, Abdoulaye Doucoure is one of the top players for Mali right now. I hope he is going to help all of them to reach the World Cup."
Doucoure played for France at every level between under-17 and under-21 but never for the senior team and qualifies for Mali through his parents.
Sissoko, who was also born in France but opted to play for Mali, admits that the Eagles will have to improve after they lost to Equatorial Guinea on penalties in the last 16 at the recent Africa Cup of Nations.
"We know we didn't do well there, we know we miss something," he explained.
"We don't have enough experience, we lost against a smaller team, so I think all the players want to prepare for these two games to forget the disappointment of the Nations Cup."
A very important tie
Sissoko, who helped the Eagles to third place at the 2013 Nations Cup, is hopeful that a win for Mali can provide a much needed boost to a country that has been experiencing political turmoil in recent years.
"We are preparing ourselves to win just two games to go to Qatar, because you know for everyone it's very important," he added.
"The situation in Mali is not easy, the economic situation in Mali is not easy. So I wish we can win these two games to go to the World Cup."
Mali will host the first game in Bamako on Friday before the return leg in Tunis on 29 March and Sissoko admits the home match is key to their success.
"We need to win, we need to play very well. We know all the supporters will come to the stadium," he explained.
"It is going to be amazing (the atmosphere). So I hope all the players are focussed on this game at home and then preparing for the next game in Tunisia."
The former Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus star knows the tie will be far from simple and that Tunisia, who were at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, are one of the top teams on the continent.
"It's not going to be easy, they (Tunisia) have a lot of talent and playing against an Arabic country is not easy," he pointed out.
"So I think it is going to be a tough game but I know all of the players of Mali and they have quality, they have good mentalities. The group is very strong.
"If we play well, if we prepare well for this game, we're gonna win for sure."