Olympique Lyonnais stars Eric Abidal, Grégory Coupet and Juninho Pernambucano have accepted coach Marcello Lippi's invitation to join the Europe XI in the European celebration match against Manchester United FC at Old Trafford, Manchester on 13 March (kick-off 20.00 local time).
The game will mark two jubilees: the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations for the modern-day European Union, and Manchester United FC's half-century in European competitions. It is being staged by the Manchester United Foundation and UEFA, with support from the European Union. All proceeds will go to charity.
Coupet is the first goalkeeper to be named while international team-mate Abidal, who represented France at left-back in last summer's FIFA World Cup final against Lippi's Italy, will join Liverpool FC's Jamie Carragher on the list of defenders. The inclusion of Juninho, alongside Real Madrid CF's David Beckham and Liverpool's Steven Gerrard, indicates that Lippi is assembling some impressive options in midfield.
"It is certainly a great honour for the club to have three players selected for a game of this nature," said Olympique Lyonnais coach Gérard Houllier. "It is always something special to play at Old Trafford, and I know they are delighted to have the opportunity to meet up with some of the other stars from top clubs who, like us, have become regulars in the UEFA Champions League. It is also a great honour to be invited to be part of an event that brings UEFA and the European Union together." The Lyon boss plans to accompany his three players on the trip to England.
Busy night expected
"Facing Manchester United is going to be a pleasure," said Coupet, "because the visiting goalkeeper can always expect to be busy. It's also exciting for me personally because, when Olympique Lyonnais went to Manchester in the Champions League in 2004, I had to miss the trip through injury. So I'm looking forward to it."
"I can say the same," Abidal added. "I was also out injured. It will be good to see our World Cup team-mates Mikaël Silvestre and Louis Saha. I'm sure they'll give us a warm welcome - and will want to beat us. I feel honoured that Marcello Lippi has selected me."
Lippi requested - and was granted - permission to select a small number of non-Europeans, and Brazilian World Cup midfielder Juninho, in Europe since he moved to Lyon in 2001 and in his sixth UEFA Champions League campaign, is the first to be drafted in. He was the only one of the Olympique Lyonnais trio to visit Old Trafford in November 2004.
"The atmosphere was fantastic," said the free-kick expert. "And it will be even more enjoyable to go there and play a match aimed purely at giving pleasure to the supporters. I also feel proud to have been chosen for a team that represents UEFA."
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