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French Guiana could deliberately forfeit Gold Cup opener against Canada

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Octavio Zambrano may get his first competitive win without his team even kicking a ball.

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea - FA Cup Semi Final Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Canada might only need to step on the field to wrap up their first victory at the CONCACAF Gold Cup since 2011. A bizarre turn of events could see the team’s opponent in their opening game, French Guiana, forfeit by their own choice.

This complicated situation was reported yesterday by Sports Illustrated writer Brian Straus. It involves 37-year-old Florent Malouda, the ex-France star who enjoyed a storied career with Chelsea and Lyon. Malouda has been named to French Guiana’s 23-man roster for the tournament.

He was originally thought to be eligible to participate, as French Guiana is not a FIFA-recognized national team but rather an overseas region of France, meaning FIFA’s eligibility rules would not be flouted.

But Straus has discovered that CONCACAF applies FIFA’s regulations on eligibility for the Gold Cup in a blanket way regardless of whether the nation is a FIFA member or not, meaning Malouda is ineligible because he is cap tied to France.

“The rules say he’s ineligible,” a CONCACAF spokesperson told Straus. “We are using FIFA rules, and so a player who has played in an official match for a different [national team] cannot play in the Gold Cup. More precisely, he is not eligible to play. He can play, but he’s not eligible.”

Well, here is where it gets truly interesting: French Guiana coach Jair Karam has reportedly said that Malouda will play tonight anyway. They will face a forfeit for a better chance at pulling out an unlikely ‘moral victory’ over Canada and, we suppose, drawing some extra interest back home by having Malouda on the field.

“We’re the minnows here, but we will do everything we can to give ourselves a chance,” Karam said.

Either way this is a great development for the Canadian national team if correct. Worst case, the highest-profile player French Guiana have is not allowed to play. Best case, Canada is handed a 3-0 forfeit victory to start the tournament.

Soccer: 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifyer-El Salvador at Canada Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

A result like that would give Canada an excellent chance of going through to the knockout stage of the tournament for the first time since 2009. Three free goals would be huge for the team’s goal difference and at the very least probably see them reach the next round as one of the best two third-place teams of the three groups.

It will also be interesting to see how French Guiana handles this if they do choose to play Malouda. Will they play Malouda for all of the group stage games or will Costa Rica and Honduras not get the same benefit as Canada? Will CONCACAF step in at some point? Can they really do anything to stop this?

The second Malouda steps on the field, according to the report, the game becomes essentially meaningless for Canada. Does what would amount to another low-stakes tune-up game help the national team iron some things out, or does it hurt because they play without intensity?

Either way, the entire situation adds quite an interesting wrinkle to Canada’s first group game of the tournament. As per usual, it is the kind of thing that leaves viewers saying “only in CONCACAF”.