A record number of Muslim stars will lead the twice crowned European champions France in the 13th European football championship, Euro 2008, which starts Saturday, June 7.
The 23-man squad of Les Bleus (the nickname for the French soccer team) will feature nine Muslim players.
Leading among Muslim stars is Germany's Bayern Munich right-sided winger Franck Ribery.
The 25-year-old Ribery is known for supplicating to God before the game kickoff. "Islam is the source of power for me inside and outside the football field," Ribery has said. "My life was hard enough and I had to find something to take me to safety and I found Islam."
Ribery's reversion to Islam, which was leaked in 2006, was first noticed during France's opener against Switzerland in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
The blue-eyed boy of the French soccer fans started his playing career at his home town club US Boulogne and then moved to Alès, Brest and FC Metz in consecutive seasons. His move to Olympique Marseille has earned him top French player honors for the months of August, October and November 2005. He was selected for the France squad for the FIFA World Cup 2006 in Germany.
A second Muslim soccer star, Eric Abidal, will also appear in French colors in Euro 2008. The 29-year-old Barcelona defender reverted to Islam five years ago and named himself "Bilal". Abidal, who was considered one of the best fullbacks in the French league, says his Muslim faith encourages him to spare no efforts to serve his team.
"I embraced Islam in full conviction," Abidal, who is married to an Algerian woman, has told Paris Match magazine.
Abidal, a father of two, started his professional career with AS Monaco on September 16, 2000, where he earned 22 first-team appearances. He moved to Lille OSC and at the end of 2004, he returned to his native region by joining Olympique Lyonnais. In June 2007, Abidal moved to FC Barcelona, the world's second richest club, for 15 million sterling pound.
Les Bleus also feature Muslim striker Thierry Henry, who moved to Barcelona from Britain's Arsenal for 16.1 million sterling pound. Henry usually encourages people to read more about Islam and the Noble Qur'an to get more acquainted with the faith. Henry, known as the magician, was twice nominated for the FIFA World Player of the Year. He led the French national team to win the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.
Defender Lilian Thuram is also another Muslim star in the French team.
There is also super striker Anelka, who reverted to Islam in 1991 when he was 16.
The French team also features Muslim midfielder Lassana Diarra (Portsmouth), striker Karim Benzema (Lyon), midfielder Samir Nasri (Marseille) and left-winger Hatem Ben Arfa (Lyon).
France will play its opener game against Romania on Monday, June 9.
Sixteen teams are vying in the tournament, which is jointly organized by Austria and Switzerland and will run until June 29,
The winner of Euro 2008 will represent the continent at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa.
Source: Islam Online (English)