Gary Neville goes WHACK!
246 years. That’s how long it’s been since representatives of the world’s most powerful nations gathered in Paris to divide up the planet following the end of the Seven Year war – an event, two and a half centuries later, which will shape the outcome of a football match this weekend.
On Saturday, the USA will take on tiny Guadeloupe in the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup in Philadelphia.
It was Guadeloupe’s 2-0 loss to Mexico on Monday (ADST), which secured the tiny Caribbean archipelago’s place in the quarter finals, but the path to Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field began at that meeting in Paris.
At the time, France gave most of modern-day Canada to the British in exchange for control of Guadeloupe, a group of five tiny islands and a 4,800-foot volcano on the eastern edge of the Caribbean.
On the surface it seems like a poor deal, with the English getting all of Canada’s timber and mineral rich terrain but now it’s starting to prove fruitful.
You could be forgiven for thinking Guadeloupe is something you put on Nachos, but the truth is they have a rich football history.
In the last 30 years they’ve provided more footballers to the French national team then nearly any other French region.
Lillian Thuram, Marius Trésor and Pascal Chimbonda were all born in Guadeloupe while Thierry Henry, Sylvain Wiltord, Eric Abidal, Gaël Clichy, Louis Saha and William Gallas all have strong links with the region.
In 2006, for three brief minutes, the entire Les Bleus back four was made up of Guadeloupeans, in Pascal Chimbonda, Lillian Thuram, William Gallas and Mikel Silvestre. With Thuram, Guadeloupe has even produced a world cup winner.
Unfortunately the region itself has never qualified for the World Cup or even been allowed to enter qualification.
As an overseas department of the French Republic, it is not a member of FIFA.
However, Guadeloupe is a member of CONCACAF and the Caribbean Football Union (CFU).
This means that while the world’s biggest single sporting event is a no go zone for them, Guadeloupe can enter the Gold Cup and they’ve done so with great aplomb.
In 2007, after qualifying for their first major senior international tournament, they made it as far as the Semi-Finals of the Gold Cup before losing to Mexico 1-0.
This was the best finish by a Caribbean island team since Trinidad and Tobago reached the Semi-Finals of the tournament in 2000.
Saturday’s Gold Cup match against the USA is a quarterfinal tie and is another remarkable achievement.
If this team is achieving so much with all the restrictions that are placed upon them, imagine what they could do with FIFA membership and a full strength side.
North American football journalist Sean Wheelock, who is not only one of the nicest commentators I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing but a brilliant journalist in his own right, said on BBC Radio last week that he is certain that given the opportunity Guadeloupe would have qualified for the 2010 World Cup.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine the Federation Francaise de Football agreeing to this (clearly they have plenty to loose) and we know how stringent FIFA are in terms of granting membership now.
This means Guadeloupians and football lovers in general are missing out.
The most appalling thing about this set of circumstances is that CONCACAF’s World Cup qualification needs another developed football country. The fact that every four years the same teams, more or less, play off against one another is one of the things holding the region back.
So for now we must rely on enjoying Guadeloupe’s achievements every two years.
The US won over a lot of people after their Confederations Cup heroics but this weekend I’ll be hoping those plucky little players, from five little islands in the Caribbean, remind Sepp Blatter exactly what “in the spirit of the game” means.