2017 Gold Cup: French Guiana lose Canada opener despite second half rally

French Guiana were defeated 2-4 by Canada in their opening Gold Cup game. Here’s my full report from Red Bull Arena in New Jersey…

REPORTING FROM RED BULL ARENA, NEW JERSEY – French Guiana tasted defeat in their inaugural Gold Cup match, going down 2-4 to a more well organised and clinical Canadian side, despite launching a second half rally through goals from Roy Contout and Sloan Privat.

This is Canada’s 13th appearance at the Gold Cup; French Guiana are completely new to this environment. It’s fair to say the gap in tournament experience ultimately showed. Neither team really settled in the early exchanges but the Canadians soon got a foothold, with captain Patrick Bernier clipping wide and Scott Arfield seeing his deflected shot narrowly miss the target. Yana Doko struggled to break down and penetrate the opposition defence – except on one occasion but the linesman waved for offside on Shaquille Dutard.

Jair Karam set his side up in a 4-4-2: Loic Baal and Kevin Rimane operating in central midfield with playmaker Florent Malouda ruled ineligible to play in the tournament. It was reported by SBI Soccer on the eve of the match that Malouda wasn’t allowed to play, or there’d be a punishment if he did, because CONCACAF are using FIFA rules for this year’s event and Malouda is therefore listed as cap-tied to France who he last played for in 2012. His absence is a big blow as he is an excellent player with experience playing at the top level of elite football.

The first goal came just before the half hour mark when Dejan Jakovic finished off Arfield’s free-kick. Privat was outmuscled by Jakovic, while Donovan Leon might have done better to come out and punch the cross away. The second arrived in stoppage time of half-time as Arfield finished a swift counter-attack from Canada after Contout had lost the second ball further up the pitch. Several passes later, Arfield found himself on the edge of the 18-yard box and he struck past Leon, who got his fingertips to the ball but there was too much power on the shot. French Guiana could have few complaints regarding the scoreline at the break. They were still in the contest but needed to make the opposition defence work harder.

16-year-old winger Alphonso Davies added a third, latching onto a through ball and sprinting out of sight to coolly slot past Leon. He became Canada’s youngest ever player in a competitive fixture and the country’s youngest ever competitive goalscorer. He was impressive throughout the game – very quick and dangerous in one-on-one situations, as well as assured in front of goal.

But to French Guiana’s credit, even at three goals down, they never threw the towel in and were pressing for a goal which would give them some kind of platform to build on. Arnold Abelinti replaced Dutard in a like-for-like swap as the rain started to pour down in New Jersey and there was suddenly more urgency to the Caribbean side’s play. Contout popped up at the near post to expertly header in Anthony Soubervie’s outswinging corner.

Then less than a couple of minutes later, Privat found the back of the net, assisted by the substitute Abelinti. Canada were seemingly crumbling whilst French Guiana were growing in confidence and momentum. From 0-3 to 2-3. Game on.

Spurred on by the two quick-fire goals, French Guiana began to play with a belief that they could get something from this game. The crowd – mainly made up of Honduran and Costa Rican fans eagerly awaiting the later fixture – were urging them forward. Rimane pulled the trigger from long range but substitute goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau had it covered.

With five minutes left on the clock, though, Canada extinguished any hopes of a full French Guianese comeback as Davies notched his second of the evening, confidently picking out the bottom corner. From game on…to game over. Despite the second half surge, the debutants were beaten by the better team on the day. The lack of tournament experience on their part took its toll while credit must be given to the solidity of Canada’s backline as they made themselves difficult to break down.

In the later game, Costa Rica edged Honduras 1-0 thanks to Marco Urena’s first half strike. Next up for Karam’s men are Honduras on Tuesday in Houston.

Post-match quotes below.

Jair Karam (head coach, French Guiana) [thanks to Daniel Feuerstein for the audio recording]: “It was an exciting match. French Guiana are a really small country. We don’t have the environment to play football. We have lots of different players who aren’t professional. But I’m really proud of my players because they gave their all for their country. As we say in France, it was like a small horse fighting against a Ferrari. At 3-2 were wanted to go one further but we gave away a lot of space and Canada are a fast team who can hurt you.” On Florent Malouda not playing: “Malouda was really disappointed not to have been given permission to play in the Gold Cup. We have the French flag and the French national anthem, but because we’re not part of FIFA it’s a difficult situation.”

Roy Contout (French Guiana): “I’m so proud to have played in French Guiana’s first ever Gold Cup game. This was like a dream for us. We wanted to play better tonight but Canada were stronger than us. We need to learn for the next two games. The manager told us at half-time that we need to show more motivation and play hard in the second half. We believed that we could take the draw but the fourth goal killed us. Some of my teammates are less experienced but they’ve seen today the level of competition at this tournament. I hope we get a better result against Honduras.”

Jean-David Legrand (French Guiana): “It’s an honour to play in the Gold Cup. We’re disappointed about the result because we had our chances. I think the referee was hard on us so it’s hard to accept the result. The first half I wouldn’t say we were stressed. But Canada had more experience than us. We didn’t play our normal game of passing the ball and putting in crosses. We can play good football but we didn’t do that in the first half. The coach told us to stay relaxed and play our football.” On playing semi-professionally in France: “I’m very happy where I’m playing in Bordeaux. I’m not a professional player and don’t earn a lot of money so I’m thankful to play in the Gold Cup. I don’t have a job outside of football but this year I’ll look for a job. Maybe a carpenter. I think it’s very important to have other interests outside of football, so I play golf and tennis too.”

French Guiana starting lineup: Leon (C), Soubervie, Lescot, Fabien, Legrand, Loic Baal, Rimane, Contout, Evens, Dutard, Privat. Manager: Jair Karam.

Subs: Abelinti – Dutard. Miguel Haabo – Evens. Unused: Petit-Homme, Lugier, Rosime, Inrick Baal, Edwige, Torvic, Solvi. Ludovic Baal, Jules Haabo and Florent Malouda listed as absent.

Canada starting lineup: Borjan, Jakovic, Vitoria, De Jong, Piette, Arfield, Bernier (C), Petrasso, Davies, Hoilett, Cavallini. Manager: Octavio Zambrano.

Subs: Crepeau – Borjan. Teibert – Bernier. Jackson-Hemel – Cavallini. Unused: Leutwiler, Straith, James, Aird, Adekugbe, Osorio, Kaye, Edwards, Ricketts.

Referee: John Pitti (Panama). Assistant referee 1: Gabriel Victoria (Panama). Assistant referee 2: Ronald Bruna (Panama). Fourth official: Jose Kellys (Panama). Match commissioner: Bernardo Barriga (Mexico).

By Nathan Carr

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Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave any constructive feedback in the comments box below. You can get in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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