Preview: Canada visits Curaçao for Nations League rematch

Mar 24, 2023 - 7:48 PM

It will be a warm evening in Willemstad Saturday where Canada will meet up with Group C opponents Curaçao for a crucial rematch of their opening clash at BC Place in Vancouver last June. In that match Canada overwhelmed their Caribbean opposition 4-0 off of goals from Steven Vitoria, Lucas Cavallini and an Alphonso Davies brace. Milan Borjan took home the clean sheet.

Curaçao, currently ranked by FIFA at 86th in the world, will be looking for a much improved performance over the 53rd ranked Canadians this time around. Canada, too, will be looking to improve off of their last national team performances; the three defeats at the World Cup in Qatar this past November and December.

But there is no doubting that Curaçao is pumped for this international window as they fly to Argentina after the Canada match to play the new World Champions in a much celebrated friendly for the island nation. However, Curaçao will not be looking past Canada to the Argentina game. When asked about the upcoming match with Canada veteran midfielder Leandro Bacuna made a point to say,

“I didn’t like the way we lost the first game, so I want revenge.”

What’s at stake

For Curaçao the Canada match is their last Nations League game and they must win to keep alive their chance to reach the semi-finals. Ideally they need to win by as big a spread as they can to overcome a daunting -5 goal difference with Honduras. Should Curaçao defeat Canada they will then be reliant on Canada winning out against Honduras in their Group C League A finale to finish in second place. But again, they have a -5 goal differential to overcome.

Should they get these results it would also give Curaçao an automatic spot in this summer’s Gold Cup. However, winning this game is always going to be a tough ask against Canada. Last game in Vancouver they were beaten by an emotionally distracted Canadian side with relative ease. A third place finish in this grouping would relegate Curaçao to Nations League B next time around, and consign them to the Gold Cup Preliminary Round for a last chance at qualifying for the main tournament this summer.

Canada, too, must win to keep their quest for the League A final round in play. A win will also ensure they can finish no lower than second in the group and qualify directly to the 2023 Gold Cup. But Canada will not be satisfied with just a win. They will seek a convincing victory over Curaçao to springboard them into the decisive contest with Honduras at BMO Field where another win would see Canada finish first in their group and move on to the Nations League final four. Padding their goal differential would also assist Canada in their seeding for the final stage in June.

However, a loss against Curaçao, provided the overall goal difference remains in their favour, will not be catastrophic to Canada on its own. Should Canada stumble in Willemstad, they would then need to beat Honduras at home while maintaining their goal differential advantage to finish first in their League A group and advance to the final four. One thing is certain, after last June’s Honduras match Canada will hardly be able to depend on fair play points in any tie-breaking scenario given the two red cards and seven yellow cards they were handed during and at the conclusion of that ill-tempered match.

 (Canada Soccer)
John Herdman and Remko Bicentini celebrate Canada’s record setting 11-0 victory over the Caymen Islands in March 2021.

What’s new with Curaçao

For Curaçao its the story of ‘the new coach, same as the old coach’ as Remko Bicentini returns to lead the team he coached for four years up to 2020. Canadian footy fans should be familiar with his name as Bicentini was, as recently as the June 2022 window when Canada last played Curaçao, an assistant coach to John Herdman. Bicentini was at Herdman’s side with Canada for the two year marathon to qualification for last year’s World Cup. On the flip side, Bicentini will be no stranger to Herdman’s Canada team or his program. Consequently, this game could prove to be an interesting tactical engagement.

Among the first orders of business since being renamed Curaçao coach, Bicentini went on a program of heavy recruitment of new Dutch born players with Curaçao roots. As well, his new recruits have tilted heavily towards youth after he identified that Curaçao was looking every bit the aging team it was in June. New players brought in under Bicentini just entering their prime years include left back Sherel Floranus and striker Richairo Živković. Youngsters coming in to the Curaçao program include wingers Jeremy Antonisse and Xander Severina..

In line with its Dutch colonial roots Curaçao’s team reflects a heavy Dutch influence with players born and raised in Holland with Curaçaon roots, and raised in the Dutch footballing traditions. A few players had their beginnings with teams in the Dutch top flight Eredivisie and still more with Erste Divisie clubs in Holland’s second tier. Two of their most renowned players are currently in England’s Championship: the Bacuna brothers Juninho of Birmingham City and Ismael Koné’s Watford teammate Leandro.

Bicentini has had mixed results in the four games he has been in charge of since his re-hire, albeit none of these matches were played with a full-strength squad. The games included two close losses to Indonesia, followed by two draws in the ABCS Tournament (a local tournament among fellow Dutch Caribbean entities Aruba, Bonaire, and Suriname), both ultimately won by Curaçao in penalties.

 (Canada Soccer)
Steven Vitoria celebrates his goal against Curaçao with Atiba Hutchinson and Alphonso Davies at BC Place Vancouver 9 June 2022.

What’s new with Canada

Canada gets re-acquaint themselves with one another after nearly four months since they last got together in Qatar. There will be new players introduced, as more than just a few players are injured and out of form, but the core is here. Nine of the 23 players on the roster 9 June 2022, the last time Canada faced Curaçao, will not participate in this penultimate game of Canada’s Nations League competition. Expansion of the roster pool and squad renewal will become a recurring theme with the CanMNT set up over the coming year.

Alistair Johnston is suspended on account of his red card (from two yellows shown) in last June’s Honduras game. Raheem Edwards was also given a straight red at the game’s conclusion but was not selected by Herdman for this international window. Also among the seven players handed yellow cards in the Honduras game but not with the team this month are Junior Hoilett, Kamal Miller, and Doneil Henry. Those looking to be on their best behaviour include Milan Borjan, Steven Vitoria, Tajon Buchanan and Jonathan David.

Perhaps the most interesting wrinkle to the upcoming game is that John Herdman will not be on the touchline as he was also handed a suspension after the imbroglio that ended the Honduras match. Canada will be led out by its core including Borjan, Vitoria, Eustáquio, and Buchanan. Entering this match the real excitement follows Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Cyle Larin. The three Canadian stars are playing lights out football in Europe over the past couple months and carry this form into the match with Curaçao.

John Herdman selected four uncapped players in the squad: Dominick Zator, Victor Loturi, Kyle Hiebert, and Tom McGill. As well, these upcoming games will provide an opportunity for some players hanging out on the periphery of the CanMNT core that went to Qatar. Those who have been handed an opportunity to make their case for future call-ups include Derek Cornelius, Charles-Andreas Brym and Ayo Akinola.

The Match Officials

The Costa Rican crew will be led by referee Juan Gabriel Calderón Pérez. He has international experience within CONCACAF in both club and national competitions, including a fair amount of games with Canadian teams. Pérez made his debut in CONCACAF Champions League on 26 February 2019 officiating Toronto FC vs C.D. Independiente.

Pérez officiated the 4-1 Canadian victory over Haiti at the 2021 Gold Cup, as well as two games involving Canada’s U-23 squad at the CONCACAF Championships. Pérez also officiated an earlier Nationals League match between fellow Group C teams Honduras and Curaçao, a match Curaçao won 2-1. Overall, Pérez tends to brandish his cards more readily in the domestic Costa Rican league than he does during international matches.

Keys to the game for Canada

  1. Win the midfield battle, dominate possession and feed the ball to the flanks where Canada’ wing play can do the heavy lifting on offence.
  2. Discipline, discipline, discipline. With up to five players on yellows, most of them starters including key strikers David and Larin, Canada will not want to risk suspensions for the Honduras game, especially if that game becomes a must win affair.
  3. Find ways for Canada’s speed and creativity on the flanks to get the ball and overwhelm Curaçao’s outside players. The likes of Davies and Buchanan, supported by fullbacks Adekugbe and Laryea will cause Curaçao’s defenders nightmares if given the opportunity to run. And with two of the most in-form strikers in Europe available, the potential is real for Canada to make Curaçao and Columbus Crew goalie Eloy Room’s evening a miserable one.

How might the teams line up.

Remko Bicentini’s quest to get younger was concurrently a quest to get quicker as well. Bicentini will likely set up Curacao in a 4-2-3-1 formation although a 4-3-3 cannot be discounted. They will remain compact in the middle of the pitch with their veterans and hope that the younger, expected to be quicker, outside players do not get over-run by Canada’s world class speed on the flanks. The fact Curaçao lacks any regular, established centre-backs may come to hurt them. Although Curaçao needs goals they are not expected to get them by playing reckless football.

Canada went with a 4-4-2 last time out with Curaçao. It is expected that Herdman will set up again with a four man back line but he may opt for a 4-2-3-1 in order to keep one of David or Larin in reserve. Should Canada line up with a lone striker up top then it will most likely be Jonathan Osorio who will play in the 10 spot to ensure a creative link between the deeper lying midfielders and the striker. In the event Canada is successful in jumping out to a comfortable lead then this is the most likely game to see the CanMNT newcomers see action as Herdman attempts to protect players with yellow cards. In this scenario the formation will likely morph into a more defensive 4-4-2 shape.


For those not fortunate to make the trip to Curaçao to watch Les Rouges live, you can catch the game on streaming services OneSoccer and FuboTV.

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