Fulham midfielder Mahamadou Diarra is delighted to be back in the national team set-up with Mali after a long spell away from international football.

Diarra returns after a year’s absence to lead his country in their African Nations Cup qualifier against Botswana in Bamako on Saturday.

The 31-year-old has not played for Mali since June 2011, after which he was not selected because he did not have a club and was not playing regular football following his exit from Monaco.

But after recovering from injuries which hindered a large chunk of his last campaign, Diarra has returned to regular action with the Cottagers, putting him on the radar of new Mali coach Patrick Carteron.

He said “I am definitely happy to be back playing on a big stage. To be in the national team is a dream come true.

“Bostwana are a good team and we will try to get an advantage in the first game.”

Asked about reclaiming the captain’s armband for his country the midfielder, who has 64 caps, said: “To be honest I am just happy to be back playing.

“(It’s not about) coming and taking the captain’s armband. I am here to play for my people; people who have loved me and supported me throughout my career.

“The armband is not the most important thing. I have to defend and play for my country and try to qualify with them.”