Benito Floro may be wondering what he’s gotten himself in for.
With Floro in the stands watching his team for the first time before taking over as head coach next month, Fabrice Reuperne scored in injury time Sunday as tiny Martinique sent Canada to a shocking 1-0 defeat at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Canada, which had largely been outplayed for most of the game but was seconds away from escaping with a point, couldn’t clear a Martinique corner kick in the dying seconds of the match. The ball fell to Reuperne, who unleashed a screaming shot past Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan in the first game of the tournament for both countries.
Up against a largely inexperienced Canadian team, Reuperne was the oldest player on the field at 37 years old.
“I’m at a loss for words here,” said interim head coach Colin Miller, who will be in charge of the team for the duration of the tournament.
“But you can’t take that away from Martinique. I thought they did very well. I think we are going through a real transition period. What happened today was not because of what happened over the last week to 10 days. This is a combination of a lot of different things going on for years in Canada.”
The loss to a country of just 400,000 is the latest setback for a Canadian program that also failed to advance to final stage of World Cup qualifying for Brazil 2014.
The loss was all the more stinging because despite being outplayed over most of the 90 minutes, Canada nearly escaped with a point. But after surviving repeated scares around their goal, Canada went down on the last kick of the game.
“I’m just devastated for our guys that we gave away a poor clearance and we didn’t defend the corner well,” Miller said. “I’m very disappointed but well done to Martinique.”
After getting a few early chances in front of the Martinique goal, Canada suddenly found itself on the back foot and looked completely out of sorts as the tiny island nation applied the pressure.
Marcus Haber had Canada’s first chance in the 10th minute when he got his head onto a corner kick from Will Johnson. Haber made good contact but Martinique goalkeeper Kevin Olimpa dropped to his left and made the save.
Johnson fed in another corner in the 13th minute that was met by defender Doneil Henry, but his header went wide.
Johnson came in with an undisclosed stomach illness and was taken off just after the half. He was given fluids intravenously after the game.
After that, Martinique took the play to the Canadians. Frederic Piquionne got past Canadian midfielder Samuel Piette and found Kevin Parsemain on the left side in the 20th minute, but Borjan came off his line to make the save.
“We had an OK game defensively,” said Borjan, who was the only Canadian player available after the game. “I think we played really good but offensively again we didn’t score a goal and you need, in this tournament, to score some goals.”
Apart from that save, Borjan had a shaky first half. He chose to punch catchable crosses on two separate occasions and both times Martinique was gifted quality chances.
Though it was a tough first half, Borjan saved Canada twice in the first five minutes of the second half with quality saves to keep the game scoreless.
After surviving the Martinique onslaught, Canada finally got on the front foot with about 25 minutes remaining.
In the 64th minute, Russell Teibert controlled a cross from the left side and hit a shot that was tipped over for a corner.
Not long after, Edgar had a high, looping header go off the top of the crossbar and out for a goal kick.
The tournament gets much harder for Canada from here. Next up in Group A is a tough match against Mexico on Thursday, while Martinique takes on Panama.
“If any Canadian player needs motivating to play against the top country in CONCACAF then there’s something fiercely wrong with them,” said Miller. “So I’m hoping just the fact that it’s a big fixture against Mexico, a powerhouse in CONCACAF, that we have motivation from the guys to pick themselves up.”