Canada walks away with win and lessons learned in Gold Cup opener

James Sharman and Gavin Day talk about the good start by Team Canada defeating French Guiana 4-2 and the positive aspects of their game against a less than difficult opponent.

• Gold Cup – Canada 4 (Jakovic 28’, Arfield 45’ + 2’, Davies 60’, 86’), French Guiana 2 (Contout 69’, Privat 70’)

GAME RECAP IN A SENTENCE

Canada opened its CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign with one of its best performances in recent history, showing glimpses of the dynamic attacking play that coach Octavio Zambrano has promised since being appointed back in March.

THE MAIN STORY

Finally!

Two dubious streaks came to an end for Canada on Friday night in New Jersey, as the Reds won for the first time in eight matches at the Gold Cup, their previous victory coming in 2011. That tournament was also the last time Canada scored at the Gold Cup, with Dejan Jakovic’s fortuitous opener in the first half against French Guiana mercifully ending the goal drought at 596 minutes.

When he took over as Canada’s new coach, Zambrano stated that it was his goal to get the team to play without fear and to attack with verve and purpose. The Reds fulfilled his promise on this night. Scott Arfield and Junior Hoilett caused French Guiana plenty of problems with their positive play in midfield, forward Lucas Cavallini effectively held up the ball to bring his teammates into the action and served as the reference point up front, while Alphonso Davies’s probing and dangerous runs gave Canada that extra bit of class and quality in attack.

The Reds deserved to be up 3-0 at the hour mark for the way they dictated the proceedings and for all the questions they asked of French Guiana’s defence. It’s difficult to remember a better 60-minute stretch from the men’s team, and if this was at all indicative of the style of play and type of soccer that Canada will play under Zambrano in the future, well, God bless him!

That all of Canada’s great work was nearly undone by a disastrous two minutes when it allowed French Guiana to get back into the game should not overshadow the many positives on this night.

Yes, I know, it was French Guiana – not exactly world-beaters. Stiffer tests are just around the corner when we’ll get a better indication of how much progress has been made under Zambrano. Still, this was a very good first step for a young team that is in transition mode and building towards qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.

Sportsnet.ca will have in-depth coverage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Gavin Day and James Sharman will be onsite and following Canada as it progresses through the tournament, providing regular articles and video reports. You can also follow both of them on Twitter for regular Gold Cup updates.

KEY MOMENT

85’ GOAL! Canada 4 – French Guiana 2: Canada settled down late in the game after that disastrous two-minute stretch when it conceded a pair of goals. The Reds were firmly in control, but still only a goal up and one mistake away from their opponents tying it up. Then Russell Teibert played the ball out wide to fellow substitute Anthony Jackson-Hamel, and the Montreal Impact forward cut inside between two defenders and played a ball across the box for Davies to slot home. Game over.

TALKING POINT

So, where does Canada go from here at the Gold Cup?
Make no mistake about it: This was a must-win game for Canada. With tougher tests looming against CONCACAF powerhouses Costa Rica (next Tuesday in Houston) and Honduras (Friday in Dallas), the Reds had to take care of business against French Guiana if they are to have any chance of advancing to the knockout round. A goal difference of plus-2 gives them a little bit of breathing room – plus-3 would have been better – but all things considered, this was a very good result and performance by Canada.

What Canada hopefully learned from Friday’s game is that it can’t ever shut off. Sixty minutes of attacking, thoughtful and composed soccer was nearly undone by a disastrous two-minute period that saw the Reds lose focus and commit silly errors. They can’t afford to have similar lapses against Costa Rica and Honduras. They have to play the way they did for the opening hour against French Guiana for the full 90 minutes in their next two contests. If they can do that, they stand a very good chance of moving on to the quarter-finals.

QUICK TAKE

Davies looks to be the real deal. The composure he showed on both goals – the first on a breakaway when he was played clean on the French Guiana net by Cavallini, and the second a sharp finish off of a setup from Jackson-Hamel – was that of a seasoned veteran, not an inexperienced teenager. Still only 16, the Vancouver Whitecap clearly has technical ability, but what’s especially impressive is his fearlessness in taking on and directly challenging defenders with his nifty footwork and incisive runs. Canada has long been lacking an attacker of Davies’ calibre; someone who can be a genuine game-breaker.

STANDOUT STAT

MAN OF THE MATCH

Alphonso Davies, Canada: Honestly, I could have gone with a number of Canadian players on this night, including Arfield, who scored one goal and set up another, or Cavallini who effectively led the line with his solid hold-up play. But it’s hard to look past Davies. Just a month after becoming a Canadian citizen and playing in only his second game for his country, the teenager bagged a brace, showed great composure when on the ball, and demonstrated why he’s such a promising prospect.

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