The FIFA World Cup begins play on June 11th in South Africa. With the Turkish and Egyptian national teams in a state of transition, the only Muslim country represented at the tournament is Algeria. But another country is likely to display the strongest group of Muslim players, and that is France. The French will be in Group A with Mexico, Uruguay, and host South Africa. While this is considered relatively easy out of the eight groups, the French have not exactly great expectations, due to their lackluster international performance the past 2-3 years. Only four years ago France lost in the finals of the last World Cup. But perhaps the infamous Zinadine Zidane head-butting incident in the World Cup final game in 2006 was a harbinger of the misfortune that was to come for the French national team.
â€œLes Bluesâ€ would have been even more stocked with Muslim players, but manager Raymond Domenech chose not to invite young North Africans Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri to the team. Nonetheless, the roster is loaded with Muslim talent that also plays for high level European club teams. Let us start with the defensive backfield which includes Eric Abidal and Bacary Sagna. Abidal plays for the Spanish champions Barcelona, while Sagna has been a fixture on defense for Arsenal of the English Premier League. In the midfield you have Alou Diarra, Abou Diaby, and Florent Malouda. Diarra currently plays for French team Bordeaux, but he has been mentioned as a possible acquisition for the Spanish giants Barcelona. Diaby is a teammate of Sagna with Arsenal Football Club. And, Malouda currently plies his trade with the English Premier League champions Chelsea. The Muslim strikers are the highest profile of the Muslims on the national team. Nicolas Anelka is a star among stars at Chelsea, having converted to Islam only six years ago. Djibril Cisse is of Ivory Coast descent and plays in the Greek league for Panathinaikos. And the most prominent player on the entire team is Franck Ribery. Generally regarded as one of the finest strikers in the world, Ribery has had a difficult spring in regards to his marriage and his personal life. And he was suspended for three games after being assessed with a questionable red card in the European Champions League tournament. But he recently signed a contract extension with the German club champions Bayern Munich and is looking forward to redeeming himself on the pitch.
France gained dubious entry into the World Cup this year with Thierry Henryâ€™s un-called hand ball in the World Cup qualifier against Ireland. And even warm-up matches have not gone terribly well, including a 1-0 loss to China. But the firepower is there. And the Muslim spirit is there. So, they should not be underestimated.