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Canada kicks off the 2017 Gold Cup tonight when they take to the field in the tournament opener against French Guiana at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey. For those of you less well versed in all things Les Rouges, here’s a primer on what to expect.
What is the Gold Cup?
It’s like North America’s version of the European Championship or Copa America, except it (stupidly) takes place every two years.
Canada, Mexico and USA qualify automatically and are joined by four teams from the Central American championship, four teams from the Caribbean Cup and the winner of a play-off between the two fifth-place teams from those tournaments.
French Guiana and Suriname, by the way, both play in the Caribbean Cup despite being geographically located in South America, and the former has qualified - landing a spot in Canada’s group.
Does Canada have a chance of winning?
It’s a long shot. Mexico and USA have dominated this tournament, winning 12 of the 13 that have been held so far. Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama - the first two of whom join French Guiana in Canada’s group - are also considered stronger than our boys on paper.
There’s two reasons for optimism. The first is that both the USA and Mexico have named weakened squads (like I said, holding this tournament every two years is dumb). There will be no Christian Pulisic or Javier Hernandez to name but two and even some of the Americans’ top MLSers, like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, won’t play until the knockout stage - if at all.
The second concerns that one team that has broken the USA-Mexico dominance. That was Canada back in 2000, when German coach Holger Osieck led the team to wins over Mexico and Colombia (who were invited to the tournament) to claim a shock victory.
The bad news? Things have been significantly rougher for Canada of late. They have exited the last two Gold Cups without scoring a single goal, managing to lose 1-0 to Martinique (an island of approximately half the population of Winnipeg) back in 2013.
Should they at least reach the knockout stage?
The Gold Cup starts with three groups of four teams. The teams in each group play each other and the top two automatically progress to the quarter-finals.
That still leaves two spots to fill. They go to the two best third-place teams, who are ranked by points, then goal difference, then goals scored and, if still tied, separated by the drawing of lots.
Canada has a good chance of claiming at least third place in their group; Costa Rica and Honduras are good, but French Guiana should be beatable. One win may be enough to secure one of those third-place spots and Canada, bizarrely, may already have three points secured (more on that in a minute).
Finishing second in the group would be a much better result; that team is likely to play Jamaica in the quarter-finals rather than Mexico or the USA. But we can’t be too picky.
What’s this I hear about a forfeit?
Canada may win its game against French Guiana tonight by default.
Head over here for the full story, but in short: French Guiana thought they would be allowed to select Florent Malouda, a now-37-year-old former France star who was born in Cayenne, their capital, before moving to Europe.
It turns out Malouda is ineligible after all but the South American minnows seem to have indicated they are going to pick him regardless - presumably in the hope of achieving a moral victory - and CONCACAF won’t stop them. The match will simply be declared forfeited if he sees a minute of action.
Who’s playing for Canada?
There are a few Toronto FC players at the tournament, including Canadians Jonathan Osorio, Raheem Edwards and Tosaint Ricketts.
Scott Arfield, of Premier League side Burnley, is the star man new Canada coach Octavio Zambrano will lean on in midfield and at least one of Anthony Jackson-Hamel and Lucas Cavallini will start up front, with Cyle Larin left out following his recent DUI charge. Larin could be recalled after the group stage, when Zambrano is allowed to make six changes to his squad.
You can also expect to see Alphonso Davies, the 16-year-old sensation regarded as the future of the program, as either a starter or a substitute tonight.
TV channel & live stream
TV: TSN 5 (Canada), FS2 (USA)
Stream: TSN Go (Canada), Fox Sports Go (USA)
Canada will not have Larin in their squad until the knockout stage and Will Johnson has also decided to sit this tournament out, but there are no known injury problems among the players Zambrano has picked.
French Guiana, as mentioned, have their Malouda problem but otherwise seem to be injury-free.
French Guiana: We’d be guessing, but left-back Ludovic Baal and forward Sloan Privat (in addition to Malouda) are two Canada will need to keep an eye on.
Canada (4-3-3): Borjan; Aird, Jakovic, James, De Jong; Arfield, Piette, Bernier; Davies, Jackson-Hamel, Hoilett.