FRANCE, GAMBIA MEET IN FINAL TOMORROW
By Ben Tetelman
For tickets to the Cosmos Copa final on Aug. 2 at Shuart Stadium, click here.
NYC France will enter James M. Shuart Stadium this Saturday with an opportunity to capture their second straight Cosmos Copa championship. A 3-2 victory over NYC Ireland this past weekend secured a position in the finals for the French, who will face NYC Gambia on the biggest of stages.
“I’m quite proud of what we have done,” said NYC France president Frederick Lesort earlier this week. “It was extremely difficult to make it back.”
Lesort also lauded head coach Zohair Ghenania, who has been with NYC France since its birth and has an unbelievable understanding of the “beautiful game”. During his youth, Zohair played for Le Mans FC - now a club in France’s second division.
“Zohair was a smart player and is a tremendous coach,” said Lesort.
The two have overcome a number of obstacles in this year’s tournament. With the loss of some players from last year’s championship team, NYC France had to reinvent their style of play while taking on some of the strongest teams in the New York metropolitan area.
NYC France breezed through the group stage of the tournament with victories over NYC Afghanistan and former Copa champions NYC Albania. Although the group was regarded as the “group of death”, NYC France showcased their ability to take opponents on and get into dangerous areas. Finishing was never a problem for the French – they found the net seven times during group play.
However, that all changed in the quarterfinals when NYC France took on NYC El Salvador at Flushing Meadows Park. They found themselves outplayed by NYC El Salvador, whose pace and physical play proved to be overwhelming.
France defended on their heels long enough to send the game into penalty kicks, where experience proved to be the difference. NYC France keeper Julien Weisbecker made a spectacular save to send his side to the semifinals.
Since the quarterfinal, nearly a disaster for those draped in blue, NYC France have been unstoppable.
Continued success from the flanks has provided scoring opportunities for Gabriel Bagot, who does not seem to let chances go to waste. The striker is currently in second place in the race for the golden boot with five goals, and has been a key player for NYC France.
During this tournament, France has been a team that seeks to control the tempo early. Their ability to play crisp balls out of the back allows for developed play in the final third. Since speed and physical play have been problems at times for NYC France, it will be interesting to see how Les Bleus match up against NYC Gambia.
“I have not seen Gambia play,” said Lesort. “If they beat NYC Senegal then they must be a strong side.”
With all eyes on the final, NYC France will hope to join NYC Poland as the only other team to ever win back-to-back Copa championships.
Should they triumph at Shuart Stadium, NYC Gambia would make history as the first African nation to ever win the Cosmos Copa.
NYC Gambia came into the 2014 tournament hungry to make a return to the knockout stages after a heartbreaking defeat to NYC Senegal in the semifinals last year.
NYC Gambia president Ansumana Gaye spoke about his team’s first ever Copa appearance earlier this week.
“Even though it was our first tournament last year, we went all the way to the semifinals,” he said. “The goal this year was quite simple: We can do better. Winning the trophy would mean the world to the entire Gambian community. Victory on Saturday would surely put us on the map.”
Vengeance against NYC Senegal in this year’s semifinal has already put NYC Gambia on the map. Before that, a comeback win over NYC Afghanistan in the quarterfinals had the Copa world talking.
Although they may not be favorites to win the trophy, NYC Gambia have all the ingredients required to break down a strong French back line.
“NYC France are the defending champs, and the mere fact that they are back in finals this year speaks volumes,” Gaye said. “To that extent, they deserve respect. Having said that, I do not think we will change our philosophy or style of play that got us this far.”
NYC Gambia’s greatest strength thus far has been their work ethic. Relentless pressure in the midfield has tormented opponents throughout the tournament and has led to dangerous counterattacks for the Africans.
The real test of Gambia’s strength, however, will come from the flanks. NYC France possess the majority of their firepower from this position, and they have had nothing but success there throughout the tournament.
Entering Saturday’s match after a monumental victory over NYC Senegal, Gambia will be playing for the most coveted prize in New York City’s amateur soccer community.
Gaye has done a fine job unifying his players, and they hope to send him out of Shuart Stadium a champion.
“It is the last game of the tournament,” said Gaye. “The lads will come out and enjoy every moment of it.”