For most Canadians, when the hear of Curaçao, they will immediately picture a blue liqueur in a cocktail glass topped with tropical fruit and a pretty umbrella. Perhaps this kind of perception is what has slowed initial tickets sales to Thursday’s match at BC Place. Whatever thoughts you conjure up at the mention of Curaçao, Canadian footy fans dismiss La Familia Azul at their peril.
Who is Curaçao?
Curaçao has only been a constituent country and FIFA member since 2011. However, the small island nation just off the north coast of South America is recognized as the successor to former FIFA entity Netherlands Antilles. As that name suggests, Curaçao is a former colony of the Netherlands, the same as Suriname.
Many comparisons of Curaçao with Suriname arise with debate over which former Dutch colony has a stronger football program. Suriname has been a late-comer to the consciousness of CONCACAF nations, playing the role of Canada’s bogeyman a year ago.
However, Curaçao, partly through its Netherlands Antilles heritage, has had some notable successes in the past sixty years. Under the banner of Netherlands Antilles, the team had third place finishes in 1963 and 1969 in the CONCACAF Championship tournament, the precursor to today’s Gold Cup. More recently, Curaçao won the 2017 Caribbean Cup, defeating perennial champions Jamaica.
Curaçao nearly made it to the CONCACAF Octagonal last year. They won their preliminary group, but were then narrowly edged out by Panama in the second round playoff. After a decent effort in a 2-1 defeat in Panama, Curaçao was held to a scoreless draw in a tight affair at home. Soon after, disaster struck the Curaçao football team when a widespread COVID outbreak necessitated their withdrawal from the 2021 Gold Cup, where Guatemala replaced them.
Players to Watch
Much was made last year of Suriname’s Dutch connections with players raised and developed in Europe, but Curaçao shares a similar pedigree. Like Suriname, most of Curaçao’s roster is also either Dutch born with Caribbean roots, or they currently or formerly have plied their trade in the Eredivisie or Dutch second division. We will look at five Curaçao players which Canadian footy fans are either familiar with, or should become familiar with ahead of the match on June 9th.
Eloy Room, Curaçao’s 33-year-old goalkeeper, was born in the Netherlands and currently holds down the number one spot with Columbus Crew SC. He has extensive experience playing in the Eredivisie, as seen by his nine year stint with Vitesse, where he played 133 games, and a short time as a backup with PSV Eindhoven. Internationally, Room has represented Curaçao 42 times since 2015 and is their undisputed number one between the posts.
Cuco Martina plays anywhere along the back-line but primarily finds himself lining up as a right-back. The 32-year-old native of the Netherlands currently holds the record for most caps for Curaçao with 54 since 2011 and serves as an alternate captain. The veteran defender has over 120 games of Eredivisie experience, mostly with Twente Enschede FC, and 45 games of Premier League experience split between Southampton and Everton.
Leandro Bacuna is a veteran midfielder who started out with hometown Eredivisie club Groningen before heading off to England where he has accumulated 96 Premier League and 187 Championship games with Aston Villa, Reading and Cardiff City, where he currently plays. Bacuna, Curaçao’s captain and all-time leading goalscorer at 14, has 39 caps to his name.
Juninho Bacuna is the younger brother of Leandro, and also plays midfield. Like his brother, his career began with Groningen before he headed to England. After three successful seasons in the Premier League and Championship with Huddersfield Town, Juninho Bacuna had a short ill-fated five-month stay in the Scottish Premiership with Rangers FC. Since the start of this year, he has returned to the Championship on a three-and-a-half year deal with Birmingham City. The younger Bacuna spent five years in the Dutch youth ranks before committing to Curaçao. Since then, he has made 13 national team appearances, scoring twice. Per Transfermarkt, Juninho Bacuna is the most valuable Curaçao player at $4.95m, which is more than double the next player, his brother Leandro.
Striker Rangelo Janga is the danger man up front for Curaçao, where his 13 goals, until this week, shared the nation’s lead with Leandro Bacuna. The much travelled 30-year-old native of the Netherlands also began his international football in the Dutch youth system before making the switch to Curaçao, where he has 27 caps to his credit. He currently plays his club football with Cypriot team Apollon Limassol.
Head to Head
Canada has the edge on Curaçao all-time, but the sample is small: they have only ever played each other once before. Back on June 17th, 2017, Canada defeated Curaçao 2-1 in an international friendly held at Saputo Stadium in Montreal. Canada’s goals were scored by Manjrekar James and Anthony Jackson-Hamel. The aforementioned Rangelo Janga replied for Curaçao.
Only eight Canadians remain from that 2017 team to play the second match five years removed. Starting that day in Montreal were Milan Borjan, Samuel Piette, Junior Hoillet, Raheem Edwards and Cyle Larin. Canada’s bench had Maxime Crepeau, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Alphonso Davies.
Canada’s roster for this window was released on May 25th, 2022 and contains the core of the players that took Canada through the Octagonal and into this November’s World Cup in Qatar. Since then, TFC’s Jonathan Osorio has had to back out of the squad due to injury. 17-year-old dual national Luca Koleosho has also departed the camp as it was reportedly pre-arranged that he would meet up with his club Espanyol for pre-season preparations after a week in Canada.
An interesting side note to the game centres around Remko Bicentini, John Herdman’s assistant coach since February 2021. Bicentini, who hails from Curaçao, has had stints as head coach for both Netherlands Antilles and Curaçao as recently as 2020, and will now face his home nation for the first time ever.
Curaçao will be looking to build on their 2-1 victory over Honduras in San Pedro Sula on Monday, June 6th after dropping the reverse fixture 1-0 in Willemstad on Friday June 3rd. Canada has yet to play in this edition of the CONCACAF Nations League, and after the off-field drama over the past couple weeks, Les Rouges will hope to summon up the relentless energy from past windows and drive on to victory.