French Guiana Gold Cup debutants set to quit
French overseas department see future with CONMEBOL
French Guiana will make their first and possibly last appearance when they take part in July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup in the USA. Once one of the world’s most inactive sides, the French overseas department succeeded in qualifying for the 2017 Caribbean Cup, which doubled up as a Gold Cup qualifier, and now face Canada and Honduras in Houston, on July 7 and 11 respectively, before meeting Costa Rica in Frisco, Texas, on July 14. And that, literally, could be the end.
At issue is the lack of transport links between the capital, Cayenne, and the rest of the Caribbean.
“Playing in the Caribbean Cup is very expensive for us and we have some voices who say we should go with CONMEBOL as we are in South America,” says Ligue de Football de la Guyane (LFG) vice-president Alain Mijdt.
“If we are in CONMEBOL it would be easier as we could fly to Belem and then to Rio de Janiero. It would only take four hours. To get to the Caribbean, we fly from Surinam because there are no direct flights from French Guiana.”
In the Gold Cup qualifiers, French Guiana travelled to Bermuda in the first round – and went via Europe.
Despite an arduous travel itinerary, Jair Karam’s team qualified after a stunning 5-2 win over Haiti in Port-au-Prince. “We didn’t expect to win as we were arguing in the first half, but at half-time we said what we had to say and went out and played,” says centre-half Marvin Torvic.
Guingamp striker Slovan Privat made the difference, bagging a hat-trick in only his second appearance. Born in Cayenne, the 27-year-old represented France at under-21 level but later opted for the land of his birth after the LFG began scouring the diaspora.
“We qualified for the Caribbean Cup for the first time in 2012 with local players, but after that we changed things and asked players from overseas to come,” explains Mijdt.
Those trips secured the services of Privat, Rennes defender Ludovic Baal and his younger brother Loic, who plays in the French third tier, but many of the home-based players have been together and have a strong bond. Torvic, who has 30 caps, has five cousins in the team, including the Baal brothers.
In the Gold Cup run-up, Mijdt and Karam visited Paris and Montpellier on another recruitment drive, but their biggest target is Florent Malouda. The
“I think we can surprise a few people at the Gold Cup” French Guiana centre-back Marvin Torvic
former Chelsea midfielder was born in Cayenne but left for France at 16 and went on to win 80 caps for Les Bleus. “I know Florent is in touch with the coach,” says Mijdt.
French Guiana is part of CONCACAF but not FIFA, and players who turn out for France at senior level must wait five years before returning. Malouda, who turns 37 in June and played for Delhi Dynamos in the 201617 Indian Super League, won his last France cap in 2012.
With many Guianan players opting to represent France, the LFG is left frustrated and isolated without FIFA membership.
“The French federation give us some money, they help us, but it’s not enough to develop to a higher level,” says Mijdt. “What they are giving us is chicken feed, we need millions. Infantino is OK, he said FIFA will help. The problem is the French federation.
“They make it a political problem. We went to see the minister of sport and he said it wasn’t possible.”
Like Martinique, who have also qualified for the Gold Cup, and the other French Caribbean holdings of Guadeloupe and Saint Martin, French Guiana were made full CONCACAF members in 2013 under president Jeffrey Webb, who was banned from football for life last year by FIFA.
Since then, CONCACAF’s new North American leadership has been locked in an internecine battle with the Caribbean Football Union (CFU).
“There is a big split at CONCACAF with the Caribbean,” explains Mijdt. “They’re putting in place policies that mean there will never be a president from the Caribbean again.
“If we stay in the CFU, will it be a benefit to us? If we go to CONMEBOL, we have an opportunity to play big teams. Of course, they will beat us heavily at the start but look what happened with Venezuela.”
Baseball-mad Venezuela are now competitive in CONMEBOL and that’s French Guiana’s target.
“We’ve beaten Honduras already; I think we can surprise a few people at the Gold Cup,” says Torvic.
That could be on and off the pitch if French Guiana quit Caribbean football for South America.
Challenge... French Guiana (in yellow) take on Bermuda
Hero...Florent Malouda arrives at French Guiana’s Rochambeau airport