TACTICAL PREVIEW: What should CanMNT expect from Curaçao in key Nations League clash?
For the first time since the World Cup, the Canadian Men’s National Team is back in action this weekend.
They’re diving right back into the thick of things, too, as a crucial CONCACAF Nations League A clash awaits them, as they get set to take on Curaçao in the first of two Nations League matches that they have this window.
There, they have a crucial task ahead of them, as they look to secure their spot in the final four of the 22-23 Nations League, confirm their spot at the 2023 Gold Cup, and secure a bye to the 23-24 Nations League quarter-finals, in which a spot at the 2024 Copa América will also be on the line.
Safe to say, there’s a lot at stake for Canada this window, who will have little margin of error as they take on Curaçao and then Honduras over this next week.
Because of that, here are three things to watch ahead of this match, which goes Saturday, March 25th at 9:00 pm ET LIVE on OneSoccer.
Young Curaçao side prepares for 2026 cycle
Over the past few years, there aren’t haven’t been many teams more interesting in CONCACAF than Curaçao. Having been a soccer-playing nation for almost a century, they became a FIFA-recognized team in 2011 after the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles the year prior.
Since then, they’ve quietly been on the rise, doing well to recruit a whole host of Dutch-born players with Curaçao heritage, as well as Curaçao-born Dutch players who had headed to Europe with intentions of representing the Netherlands, giving them a strong base of players to build around.
As a result, they did well to make the quarter-finals of the 2019 Gold Cup, and avoid relegation from League A in the inaugural Nations League group stages in 2019, making them a team to watch in the 2022 World Cup cycle.
But then, things stalled a bit in 2021. There, they narrowly missed out on making the final round of World Cup qualifiers after losing 2-1 to Panama on aggregate, a tie where they were a late crossbar away from winning on away goals, and then had to withdraw from the 2021 Gold Cup due to a rise in COVID cases in Curaçao.
Now, however, with the 2026 cycle on the horizon, they have eyes on qualifying for their first-ever World Cup, a very reasonable feat given that CONCACAF has expanded from 3.5 spots to 6 full spots and two 0.5 spots for this edition (although it’s worth noting that co-hosts Canada, Mexico and the US already have taken three of the six spots).
Because of that, Curaçao is looking to use this Nations League campaign as a launchpad for that journey. Still in the race to win the group, even if they’ll need some help to make that happen, they head into this game with Canada eager to win, which would at least give them a chance to still qualify ahead of the final game of the group, which will come when Canada hosts Honduras on March 28th.
From there, they’ll want to qualify for the 2023 Gold Cup and 2024 Copa América, and do well in the 23-24 Nations League, before World Cup qualifiers begin in 2024.
And the squad that they’ve called up for this latest camp reflects that.
A window where they’ll also take on the recent World Cup champions, Argentina, following the Canada game, they’ve called up 13 players 26 or under to their squad, after calling in just seven such players during their last World Cup qualifiers squad.
They’ve also got nine players 30 or over, so it’s not as if they’ve completely turned things over to younger faces, but they’ve certainly skewed a lot younger, giving them a group of players that should be able to grow together over the next few years.
Especially given that six of those 13 U26 players are uncapped, that just further signifies that shift, too, as they really start to look ahead to the future.
Which, based on what they’ve shown over the past few years, should be interesting. Given that their squad is filled with players playing in the top two divisions of Dutch soccer, as well as a couple of names in the English Championship and Turkish Süper Lig, there’s no doubt that they’ve got a talented player pool, one that will only cause problems for opponents in CONCACAF.
What to expect from Curaçao tactically?
While the Curaçao squad has faced some turnover, it’s expected that they continue to build on what they started doing under head coach Remko Bicentini, who was hired last August.
Bicentini, who was an assistant on John Herdman’s staff during their World Cup qualifying run in 2021 and 2022, was previously Curaçao’s head coach from 2016 to 2020, so he’s well familiar with this team.
And since returning, he hasn’t tweaked too much, either sticking with a 4-3-3 in his first camp last year, one similar to what his predecessor, Art Langeler used. At times, it has become a 4-1-4-1, as well as a 4-4-2, but for the most part, the 4-3-3 has been the base on which Bicentini has relied upon.
In @CarlRuiter1’s sports radio show ‘Deporte Hoyer’, senior national team head coach Remko Bicentini spoke on the new players, the process of convincing them and their value to the team. We’ve translated that in this thread. #EOlaBlou #CNL pic.twitter.com/N7Oq13PsJl— Curaçao Football News (@Curacaofootbal1) March 23, 2023
Within that, they try to hold the ball whenever possible, as they’ve controlled an average of 57% of possession in their last five games, including an average of 64% in two games under Bicentini. From there, they’ve got a few avenues where they like to score from, such as corners, where they generate an average of 8.4 attempts per game, turning one in four of those attempts into shots, as well as from crosses, of which they attempted 15.6 a game, with a shot-generation success rate of one in three on those.
Defensively, they tend to play with a mid-defensive line, with their goal being to shut out space between the defensive and midfield lines, reflected in the fact that their midfield recoveries shot up under Becentini, after being much lower before.
Otherwise, some key players to watch are the Bacuna brothers, with the 31-year-old Leandro a regular (and teammate of Ismaël Koné) at Watford, and has 44 caps for Curaçao, while 25-year-old brother Juninho is at fellow Championship side Birmingham City, and he 17 caps for Curaçao. Both central midfielders, they’ll be expected to be in the heart of midfield, although Leandro sometimes plays higher up the pitch as more of a #10 or even a second striker depending on the opponent.
Elsewhere, veteran goalkeeper Eloy Room has been a reliable steward for Curaçao, and could be poised to start after not featuring for Bicentini last fall, while captain Cuco Martina is the team’s most capped player, and should hold down the heart of the defence.
Lastly, some uncapped names to watch are 24-year-old defender Sherel Floranus, who plays in the Turkish Süper Lig with Antalyaspor, as well as 26-year-old Richairo Živković, who plays in the Eredivisie for Emmen, where he has three goals this season.
How could CanMNT line up?
Canada will have to be careful in how they line up against Curaçao in this one, especially given that this game will be on the road.
Already short Alistair Johnston, who misses out due to suspension, they’ll have further lineup questions to answer tactically, namely when it comes to how to best attack this Curaçao side.
The likely option is for them to stick with a 4-4-2 that worked really well when they last faced Curaçao, which was a dominant 4-0 win, one where their verticality really caused a lot of problems for the Curaçao backline.
Alternatively, a 3-5-2 or a 4-3-3 also remain good options, as Bicentini’s side will be expected to be a lot more midfield-heavy than Langeler’s Curaçao was against Canada, which could make things interesting in the middle of the park.
Because of that, keep an eye on one of Jonathan Osorio or Atiba Hutchinson. Of course, Stephen Eustáquio and Ismaël Koné feel certain to start no matter the formation, but it’s unsure whether they’d feature in a pivot or a trio, with the latter opening up the door for Osorio or Hutchinson to slot in.
Which, if they do, potentially for Johnston, that could give Canada the ability to go toe-to-toe with Curaçao’s midfield, while still maintaining the width they’re known for, and open the door to starting in-form striker Cyle Larin and Jonathan David together.
Such a set-up could look like this, for example, working as a 4-4-2 off the ball, before morphing into 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3 on the ball, depending on the positioning of Sam Adekugbe and Eustáquio.
Otherwise, if Canada wants continuity on what Johnston brings, Dominick Zator could be someone to watch, as he’s played a lot as a hybrid right centre back/right back at the club level, making him the closest like-for-like replacement in Canada’s squad.
Either way, a few things should be expected from Canada in this game, - they’ll likely look for David and Larin to provide them outlets, they’ll want to use the verticality of Alphonso Davies and Buchanan, and they’ll be disciplined in a 4-4-2 off the ball no matter what happens.
Within that, however, things remain open tactically, especially in terms of how they’ll line up in midfield, and what they might look like when playing out of the back, especially after what they learned about those two areas of their play at the World Cup.