2017 Gold Cup: Canada 4 French Guiana 2
By Matthew Gourlie
Great careers are made of a series a great moments.
There is no predicting what the future holds for Alphonso Davies’ career, but so far he providing moments that are only enhancing his reputation as a special talent.
There was plenty of positives and negatives to take from Canada’s 4-2 opening match win over French Guiana at the Gold Cup Friday. In time all that most people will recall is Davies’ performance in his first start for Canada.
The 16-year-old scored the winning goal and then added his brace to put the game away. In doing so he became the youngest goal-scorer in the history of the Gold Cup and also the men’s national team program.
He also nutmegged French Guiana keeper Donovan Léon on both goals, going five-hole in classic Canadian style.
“He probably the most exciting kid — he still is a kid — that I’ve ever played with and probably that I’ve ever seen with my own eyes,” said Canadian midfielder Scott Arfield. “I’ve been about for a long time and he’s the most technically gifted, most modest and humble young man that I think is going to go from strength to strength. A lot of big clubs in Europe are certainly looking at him.”
When Davies made it 3-0 on the hour, the match looked like it was going to a rout. When he scored his second in the 85th he let a national exhale after allowing the debutants back into the match.
“The experience he’s shown, at 16 years old… in a game like that — when our backs are against the wall, when we’ve lost our shape for 20 minutes or so — to take a technically gifted strike and put it in and see the game out speaks volumes,” Arfield said.
While Davies stole the headlines, Arfield had his best match for Canada.
He did his part to end Canada’s seven-match Gold Cup goalless drought was ended when Léon could only deflect his well-struck free kick off of Dejan Jakovic’s ribcage and into the net.
It was Jakovic’s first international goal and just before half time, Arfield got his first international goal with a strike from the edge of the area.
In the second half, Davies showed his awareness by making an early run and then showed his pace by out-running two Guianese defenders as he got on the end of a well-weighted through ball from Lucas Cavallini to score.
Up 3-0, everything quickly went sideways for Canada. Goalkeeper Milan Borjan had been struggling for 15 minutes after being struck under the eye by teammate Sam Piette while challenging for a cross.
Borjan made way for Maxime Crépeau and two minutes later captain Patrice Bernier left the match as well. A torrential downpour began and within five minutes the Canadian lead had nearly washed away.
Roy Contout headed home a corner kick in the 69th minute and Sloan Privat scored 91 seconds later to get French Guiana to within a goal and completely change the tie.
“I’m pleased, obviously with the victory,” said Canadian head coach Octavio Zambrano. “When the opponent scores two goals in a short span of time it does raise some concerns because we had a breakdown. That’s part of the game. We have to analyse that and see where exactly was that breakdown and correct it. We had the game in the bag, as they say, and we put ourselves in peril, unnecessarily.”
The Canadians dug in and their two outfield subs — Russell Teibert and Anthony Jackson-Hamel — combined well to set-up Davies’ second in the 85th minute.
Arfield lauded the character that the team showed to come back and see the game out and felt that was ultimately bigger as a positive than their second half lull was as a negative.
“The character to get the game, rather than losing our shape for 20 minutes, is far more important for a young team,” Arfield said.
While Arfield was immense in the middle of the field, so too was Cavallini who led the line and drew four fouls while providing a lot of energy and strong link-up play.
Michael Petrasso, who was a surprise starter at right back, held up decently and won the free kick that led to the first Canadian goal.
French Guiana were without standout left back Ludovic Baal and former France star Florent Malouda who had been deemed ineligible for the tournament by CONCACAF. Despite suggestions they might play him anyway, French Guiana opted not to in fear of further sanctions.
Canada will face Costa Rica in Houston on Tuesday, July 11.