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2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Group A, round 2 round-up: CONCACAF finds a new way attract attention

The story of this round of games should have been the perceived underdogs standing up to the heavyweight teams in the group. Instead, CONCACAF found a way to make Florent Malouda playing soccer into a scandal.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The second round of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup brought what might ultimately be considered the tournament's most memorable match. Few might have expected Honduras and French Guiana to play to a scoreless draw; even fewer perhaps would have predicted the game would be possibly the most talked about of this competition. But French Guiana came into this round of the tournament with a need to air a grievance, and got a lot of bang for their buck.

First, however, there was a game between Canada and Costa Rica to be played.

Canada 1-1 Costa Rica

Los Ticos did not send their strongest squad to this competition, but it was still a surprise to see them fall behind to a goal scored by a 16-year-old.

Alphonso Davies is no ordinary 16-year-old, of course - as indicated by the fact that he has now scored three goals in two games at his first Gold Cup.

Costa Rica wasn't behind for long. Francisco Calvo equalized off a set piece before half-time.

But that was all the scoring the game had in it, and the 1-1 draw put Canada in a strong position to advance to the quarterfinals. The team currently tops Group A, and can guarantee itself a place in the knockout rounds with a draw in its final group stage game. Even if it loses that match to Honduras, Canada should still be considered a favorite to make the next round: four points could well be enough to advance as one of the top two third-places teams from the group stage.

Costa Rica will shrug this result off as a bad day and expect to re-assert its status as one of the better teams in the tournament against French Guiana.

French Guiana 0-0 Honduras

Soccer-wise, this was a good game with chances at both ends and the prospect of an upset looming throughout. But the soccer was overshadowed before it even started.

French Guiana arrived at this tournament with a star player on the roster. Florent Malouda has won trophies in England and France with Lyon and Chelsea, and also won 80 caps for France. At 37, his best days are behind him and he was successfully persuaded to turn out for the country of his birth - French Guiana - at the only major international tournament in which that is possible.

Actually, it's possible at the Caribbean Cup as well - and Malouda played Caribbean Cup for French Guiana a couple of weeks before the Gold Cup. Duly warmed up, he and his teammates moved on to the big show in the USA.

This is not a controversial arrangement.

French Guiana is one of several teams that compete in CONCACAF competitions but are not members of FIFA, and therefore are not eligible for World Cup qualifying or entry to other FIFA tournaments such as Confederations Cup.

In common with Martinique and Guadeloupe, French Guiana is part of France. Its citizens are French and its best soccer players are eligible to play professionally in France, and for the national team. They are French: they play international soccer for France.

Also in common with Martinique and Guadeloupe, however, French Guiana runs a national team of its own. It is not a team recognized by FIFA, it does not compete in FIFA's competitions, but it is a member of CONCACAF and competes in tournaments organized or overseen  by the confederation. And, like Guadeloupe and Martinique, French Guiana runs its national team on principles that are more or less the same as any national team: players selected must be born in the country or have the sort of heritage that would qualify them for a passport - if French Guiana issued its own passports, which it doesn't.

Players who have played for the France national team are traditionally permitted to represent French Guiana (or Guadeloupe or Martinique), assuming they qualify for selection, but only after serving a sort of grace period. By convention, a period of five years must elapse between a player's last France appearance and selection to the national team of French Guiana, Martinique, or Guadeloupe (to focus on the territories that feature regularly in CONCACAF competitions).

That restriction - plus the fact that national team not affiliated with FIFA cannot compel clubs to release players for matches - means that it isn't all that common for France national-teamers to pop up in the squads of the (in effect) sub-national teams. But it isn't an unknown occurrence.

In 2011, Frederic Piquionne (one cap for France) played Gold Cup with Martinique. More famously, in 2007, Jocelyn Angloma (37 caps for France) was part of the Guadeloupe side that made the Gold Cup semifinals. In 2017, we were going to see Florent Malouda play Gold Cup for French Guiana under the same arrangement.

And then we were not.

On July 6, Sports Illustrated broke the news that Malouda was ineligible to play in the tournament. That was one day before the start of the competition.

The timing of the story was peculiar: pretty much all there was to say about French Guiana prior to Gold Cup was that it was planning to bring Malouda. If he wasn't eligible to play, one would have thought that news might have been made public by CONCACAF earlier. Because it is CONCACAF's decision to alter its policy of allowing players like to Malouda to appear at Gold Cup that rendered him ineligible.

Per SI's Brian Straus, the regulations for the tournament specifically exclude the likes of Malouda:

Each participating Member Association shall select its national representative team from the best players who are nationals of its country and under its jurisdiction, and are eligible for selection in accordance with the provisions of the applicable FIFA Regulations.

It isn't entirely clear when French Guiana learned CONCACAF didn't want Malouda at the tournament, but the team did seem to be taken a little by surprise. It left Malouda out of its opening game against Canada on July 7, but then named him in the starting lineup (and captain) for the July 11 game against Honduras.

Cue understandable outrage from Canada's corner - as the team most likely to be adversely affected by the decision. French Guiana was essentially inviting a forfeit. It would be allowed to play the game, but the flouting of CONCACAF's rules would inevitably result in (at least) an automatic 3-0 win for Honduras once the confederation completed its disciplinary procedures. And that would essentially hand Honduras three points and a leg up on the unexpectedly wide-open race for second place in Group A.

There was also some less understandable pontificating from those who perhaps ought to have a broader interest in both sides of the story.

And there are two sides of the story. As well explained by Jonathan Tannenwald for Philly.com, French Guiana didn't simply throw away any hope of advancing in the tournament on a whim. The team has a grievance, and also believes it has a case.

The case, in a nutshell, would seem to be that French Guiana is not a member of FIFA so rules applying to FIFA members do not apply to it. Further, insofar as non-FIFA national teams like French Guiana exist and occasionally require support or exemptions from FIFA for various reasons, those would be the rules that would apply - and those rules support Malouda being allowed to play (cf. Angloma playing for Guadeloupe in 2007).

CONCACAF is expected to issue its decision before the next round of group stage games.

One would expect the confederation to come down on the side of its own policy, though it will be interesting to see if French Guiana continues its protest - and plays Malouda in its final group stage game - and appeals any adverse decision.

The logic of CONCACAF's policy as written seems fatally flawed:

Each participating Member Association shall select its national representative team from the best players who are nationals of its country and under its jurisdiction, and are eligible for selection in accordance with the provisions of the applicable FIFA Regulations.

In French Guiana's case "nationals of its country and under its jurisdiction" are, technically, anyone French. CONCACAF might just have provided teams like French Guiana incentive for a radical re-think of its selection policy.

That is unlikely, since the whole point of teams like French Guiana is the expression of the national pride of places like French Guiana - and that is hard to achieve if the national team is comprised of promising players from anywhere in France. But is the logic of CONCACAF's rule as written.

Not for the first time, the confederation would appear to have created an avoidable and unnecessary controversy. Not for the first time, we find CONCACAF's administrative mishaps more compelling than the soccer it is supposed to be overseeing.

Group A is back in action on July 14 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. But we'll likely be hearing about it well before then.