Thierry Henry, Christian Karembeu and Lilian Thuram are just a handful of players who hail from various French Outre-Mer’s (overseas departments and territories) but have gone on to represent Les Bleus, often with great success, at international level.
These islands and regions are, in the main, on the international side-lines with limited or no recognition from FIFA. However in 2008 the French Football Federation created a tournament which brought these remote teams to the Paris suburbs for a week in order to challenge for the Coupe de l'Outre-Mer, which is held every two years.
Seven sides contested the inaugural edition with Réunion, from the Indian Ocean, defeating the Caribbean island Martinique 1-0 in the final in Créteil. The tiny islands of Saint Pierre et Miquelon boosted the number of teams to 8 in 2010, but the outcome was familiar, only this time Martinique gained revenge on ‘Club R’, winning on penalties after a scoreless draw.
The other territories that enter the competition are FIFA members Tahiti and New Caledonia from Oceania, Indian Ocean islanders Mayotte and CONCACAF associates French Guiana and Guadeloupe. The ‘Gwada Boys’, as the Guadeloupians are known, are one of the strongest sides in the Caribbean but are slightly hindered at the Outre-Mer as only home-based players can be selected. These eight teams gathered in the outskirts of Paris at the end of September to compete for the third edition of the games.
Group A looked the toughest with Réunion, French Guiana and, many people’s favourites, Guadeloupe set to battle it out for a place in the final. Saint Pierre also featured but they succumbed to double-digit defeats during their 2010 debut, and nobody expected any different this time around. Sure enough the Atlantic Ocean side crashed to a 13-0 defeat against the ‘Gwada Boys’ in the opening game, which represented Guadeloupe’s largest ever victory, in front of 300 noisy fans in Versailles. Réunion had beaten French Guiana in both previous editions and 23-year old Jean-Michel Fontaine, who would go on to become the tournament’s top goal-scorer, netted an early strike before Eric Farro made it 2-0 in their match. Fontaine went on to bag a hat-trick against Saint Pierre in the 2nd round of fixtures in Saint-Ouen, ‘Club R’ going on to win 10-0, before Guadeloupe survived a late comeback to see off French Guiana 4-2.
The Gwada Boy’s superior goal-difference meant Réunion would need victory in the side’s final game watched by many of the Guadeloupian community in Paris. Fontaine again gave ‘Club R’ an early lead but Guadeloupe’s own top-scorer, Dominique Mocka equalised on the hour mark. The ‘Gwada Boys’ then sat back and with eight minutes to go it was Fontaine who scored another crucial goal he turned inside the box and rifled home the winner. Florent Malouda had come to cheer on his native French Guiana during the 2010 edition but he was not in the crowd as they rattled eleven goals past Saint Pierre, a game which was much more memorable for what turned out to be the minnows first ever international goal, courtesy of teenager Kévin Mathiaud.
FIFA members New Caledonia and Tahiti had flopped at the previous tournaments but it was hoped that with the latter sides recent OFC Nations Cup success, and subsequent Confederations Cup qualification, results would improve. It proved not to be the case and ‘Team Fenua’ found themselves 3-0 down to a Chamsidine Attoumani hat-trick in Group B, with Roihau Degage’s late goal proving mere consolation. Mayotte aren’t even associate members of CAF and thus receive zero support from any governing body. With Tahiti so comfortably beaten by the Africans it’ll be interesting to see how they get on against Brazil or Spain next summer. Martinique’s Kévin Parsemain, fresh from scoring 11 goals in three games in Caribbean Cup qualification, netted a brace as ‘Les Matinino’ secured a 2-0 win over New Caledonia.
‘Les Cagous’ slipped to another 2-0 loss in their 2nd game as they also were shot down by Attoumani and Mayotte, who were top of the group. Their position was strengthened later in the day as Tahiti finally showed some mettle, upsetting Martinique 3-2. ‘Les Matinino’ took on Mayotte in what was effectively the group showdown, with the CONCACAF member needing a win by 2 goals to progress, whilst also hoping New Caledonia didn’t collapse against Tahiti. In the end both happened as Martinique ran out 3-0 victors with ‘Team Fenua’ managing a 1-0 win in their game. Mayotte ended up in second place – one wonders what could be achieved with this side were they to have any financial and technical assistance.
The 7th-place and 5th-place matches were played at the famous French academy Clairefontaine. Perhaps spurred on by their maiden international goal Saint Pierre attacked more than usual against New Caledonia, who hadn’t scored so far. By half-time this was far from the case as ‘Les Cagous’ found themselves 8-0 up. They scored eight more in the second-half to condemn the Atlantic Ocean side to their record defeat, though Xavier Delamaire managed to score his team’s second ever goal thus making the score 16-1 at full-time. Tahiti went on to complete an ultimately disappointing tournament as they lost 2-1 to French Guiana, with the CONCACAF side claiming 5th place.
The Parc des Sports Michel Hidalgo in Sannois played host to the third-place game and final on the Saturday. Guadeloupe, still backed by their raucous fans, won a scrappy game against Mayotte to claim Bronze with Vladimir Pascal notching his fifth goal of the finals.
5,000 fans turned up to watch what turned out to be a thrilling finale in Sannois, as Martinique and Réunion met at this stage for the 3rd successive time. ‘Les Matinino’ were quick out the blocks and took just six minutes to take the lead, Kévin Tresfield taking advantage of some hesitant defending to fire the holders ahead. ‘Club R’ were all over the place and Steeve Gustan went close to a second goal for Martinique on the half hour. Five minutes later things got worse for Réunion when Jaffrefo was given a straight red for a nasty challenge on Lionel Bannais. Eric Farro and Kévin Parsemain went close for their respective teams before the Indian Ocean side managed to haul themselves level in first-half injury time, top-scorer Fontaine heading home from a corner. The Caribbean side started the second-half with the same pace they’d started the first and on 52 minutes Gustan’s long-range effort flew past Mathieu Pelops to make it 2-1. The same player hit the post with 25 minutes to go and would rue his miss just moments later as Farro seized upon some poor Martinique communication to haul ‘Club R’ level again. Neither side could find a winner and an epic penalty shootout would commence. Into sudden death Réunion had an astonishing 3 opportunities to clinch the trophy after Martinique had fluffed their lines but on each occasion they bottled it. However when Pelops parried Martinique’s 13th penalty it was left to Christopher Achelous to thunder home the winner, sparking wild scenes amongst the ‘Club R’ team and support.
It will be interesting to see if a different side manages to make the last 2 in the next edition of the finals, in 2014. Guadeloupe and the Oceania sides would surely harbour realistic hopes of contesting the final but no team has yet broken the Martinique- Réunion stranglehold. CONCACAF members Saint-Martin have expressed disappointment at not receiving an invite and it remains to be seen if they will feature in 2014. Football seems dormant in Wallis and Futuna, and only in its infancy in Saint Barthélemy though they have recently fielded a national side. A British version featuring teams like Bermuda, Jersey, Montserrat, the Falklands and new UEFA associate member Gibraltar would be welcome amongst these football communities although it seems unlikely any of these sides will be celebrating like ‘Club R’ anytime soon.