S10534064-29

Jocelyn Angloma enjoyed a glittering career. In a long career playing for some of the leading clubs in France, Italy and Spain the cultured right-back achieved success at the highest level. He was a part of Marseille’s Champions League winning team of 1993, and twice more reached the showpiece final; losing twice with Valencia in 2000 and 2001. He also played at Euro ’92 and ’96 with France, part of his total of thirty-seven French international caps. But that wasn’t the extent of his international career. In 2007 he answered the call of his homeland, the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe; a French overseas department. Angloma hails from the tropical paradise, born in Les Abymes on Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe. Not being an independent state, Guadeloupe, like their fellow French-Caribbean cousins in Martinique and French Guiana, are not a member of FIFA and like Angloma, many of its sons have represented Les Bleus internationally – such famous names as Lilian Thuram and Marius Treosr among them. But they are part of the Caribbean Football Union; a subsidiary of CONCACAF. This allows them to take part in the Caribbean Cup, and if successful there the CONCACAF Gold Cup. In 2007 they did just that, qualifying to join the likes of Mexico and the United States in the regional flagship tournament for the first time. Among their squad was the forty-one year-old Angloma, enjoying a golden retirement.

For anyone who had played for France to represent Guadeloupe there had to be at least a five years gap since their last performance for Les Blues, a requirement that the long-since internationally retired Angloma comfortably met, as did his fellow former France international Daniel Sommeil, once of Manchester City, who also joined the squad. ‘The season before I came out of retirement to play quietly in Guadeloupe and they asked me to join the squad,’ he recalled. It was a match made in heaven as Angloma inspired his side into the Gold Cup; for Guadeloupe an unprecedented achievement. ‘The Gold Cup is to get country known around the world and to show we have a good soccer team,’ Angloma added. More than merely getting their country known, they would cause quite a stir in the tournament in the United States.

They were fortunate to avoid the two big guns, Mexico and the American hosts, in the group stages, instead joining Costa Rica, Canada and Haiti. It was their fellow Caribbean nation, and current Caribbean Cup winners, Haiti who provided Guadeloupe’s first opponent in a Miami stadium packed to the rafters with Haitian exiles. On their tournament debut they fought back from the early concession of a penalty to draw 1-1. Guadeloupe, for many an unknown quantity in that year’s Gold Cup, were up and running.

Three days later they would be unknown no longer. They announced their arrival on the international stage with a bang. Canada may not be amongst the real elite of world football, or of CONCACAF football either for that matter, but they had a wealth more experience and resource to call on than Guadeloupe could lay claim to. What Canada didn’t have though, was anyone with the pedigree of Jocelyn Angloma.

In the 10th minute of the match, Angloma, playing on the right side of midfield rather than his more regular right-back, burst forward and sent a delightful chip over the Canadian goalkeeper from a good twenty-five yards out to give his side the lead. ‘I tried to lob him and was lucky it went in,’ Angloma said. ‘I haven’t scored many goals in my career, but that one will stand out.’

Guadeloupe scored a second late in the first half to retake the lead after Canada had earlier equalised. It was a lead they would hold all the way to the end, Canada hitting the post in the closing minutes, to record a historic victory. But they weren’t happy to rest of their newly acquired laurels. They was the chance to go for more. Angloma, named man of the match, noted that ‘It’s possible to qualify for the second round and that will really get things going. It’s good for the country and good for football in Guadeloupe.’

In spite of a loss to group favourites Costa Rica in their final match just two days later, Guadeloupe did indeed make it through to the next round to face a quarter final against Honduras; another one of the stronger Central American nations.

The islanders got off to another stunning start, with the veteran Angloma once more at the centre of it all. If his goal against Canada had been all about the delicacy of a well executed chip, the strike he unleashed to give Guadeloupe the lead against Honduras was of the more barnstorming variety. In the 17th minute he latched on to a loose ball in the Honduran box and fired an unstoppable bullet past Honduras’ goalkeeper Orlin Vallecillo. Three minutes later Guadeloupe were in dreamland when Richard Socrier headed the islanders into a 2-0 lead.

They made it to half-time still two goals to the good, but as the second half began Honduras stepped their efforts up. From that point on it was a case of battening down the hatches and attempting to stem the relentless Honduran tide. Their more vaunted opponents created numerous chances, even contriving to miss an open goal at one point. With twenty minutes remaining, the Honduran barrage finally got its reward, Carlos Pavon heading his side back into contention. A nervy final few minutes ensued. Honduras kept on piling forward, and the chances kept on coming. Pavon missed with another header, Wilson Palacios did likewise moments later, before Pavon saw his free-kick saved. But Guadeloupe grimly, remarkably held on and with it secured by some margin the most significant result in their history.

Sadly the fairy tale was to end there. There was to be no glorious march to the final. Mexico, a team on an entirely different level to those Guadeloupe had faced so far. But the Mexicans were made to work for it. Only a late Pavel Pardo strike from distance secured the win to send Mexico into the final with the United States. Mexico’s win also spared FIFA’s potential embarrassment had Guadeloupe gone all the way and won the tournament – they would have qualified for FIFA’s Confederations Cup; a competition they are ineligible for as a non-FIFA member. With that one swing of Pardo’s boot, Guadeloupe were beaten, but left the tournament in triumph. An island that was unofficial as far as the football world was concerned had gone further than anyone expected on the back of the inspirationalAngloma.

But was it such a surprise in the end? After all, Guadeloupe’s starting eleven featured nine players plying their trade professionally in Europe, though mostly in the lower reaches of French football. The Angloma fairytale aside, this wasn’t just a bunch of guys plucked from total obscurity. And yet they were expected to achieve little more than taking part. To have gone all the way to the semi-finals was an astonishing achievement and a fitting finale to Angloma’s impressive career. ‘The Gold Cup was a fantastic adventure,’ he recalled. It highlighted Guadeloupe. I’m proud.’

Aidan Williams is a blogger focusing on  international football, his own blog (and book that is due to be published soon) is about the worst national teams in the world – The Worst in the World