June 14 – The opening game of the Gold Cup at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena will see one giant land mass in North America confront a tiny island in the Caribbean. But it is unlikely to be a David vs Goliath encounter.
Martinique have a proud Gold Cup history and on a hot Gold Cup opening day in 2013 beat the Canadians with a last minute goal. In 2017 they came very close to causing the shock of the tournament by nearly upsetting the US.
Canada in contrast are rapidly rebuilding the competitiveness of their men’s national team. They start as favourites, and two days after the Toronto Raptors won the NBA Championship have seen first hand the impact that can have on a country. “You can stop a country through sport. Who would have believed a team from Canada would be NBA champions?” said coach Canadian coach John Herdman.
“We have a lot of young talent coming into this team. We have a fantastic opportunity and over the last five or six games we have really progressed. People are starting to take notice of how good this squad is.”
Both Herdman and Martinique coach Mario Bocaly (pictured) are aware of the importance of the first game.
“We have a great feeling of pride to represent our country and we will play with dignity. That is what is driving us right now,” said Bocaly. “We have players who have already played against teams like Canada and Nicaragua, they have played at a high level.”
“The game tomorrow is a key game, it is essential. It will be difficult and we are expecting a very complicated game. Canada is always a tight game and I think it will be very tight again. We have had good training with Concacaf and with our French federation.”
While Canada have a squad that relies on its time together in the international window, Martinique have the benefit of being able to train together more frequently, a process aided by the four games in the Concacaf Nations League that “created a harmony between the players. They allowed us to work together and work well,” said Martinique captain Sebastian Cretinoir.
But it is also a challenge. “We depend on France for our players (and their development) but we have our players in French teams and clubs who don’t want to work with us. It is difficult to work with that. So I chose to work with players in the Martinique championship. We have 16 or 17 players (who play in Martinique) and six others who play at pro level (outside),” said Bocary.
“We have a lot of quality and experience, and some new players … you will discover these players tomorrow.”
In contrast Herdman has a much more visible Canadian squad and is not afraid to talk of the possibility of taking them all the way to the final. “We have a good balance of veterans with top experience and young players who are not carrying the weight of the team on their shoulders and can play a lot freer.”
The Canadians also have one eye on the 2022 World Cup and 2026 after that.
“The bigger mission is World Cup qualification. It is a process for 2022 with this group. They have got the ability to do it and we are putting a foundation down around them.”
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