Incoming coach Igor Stimac would have a tricky task when they face Curacao in the King’s Cup next month. With the nation starting to play football only recently and fans oblivious of what to expect from them, we try to look at what are their strengths and weakness and how can India exploit them.
Curacao have been a relatively new side at the international level and many Indian fans, before India getting clubbed with the side in the King’s Cup, hadn’t even heard of the football playing nation. However, the fact is they are the highest ranked side in the four-nation tournament and Igor Stimac’s first challenge would be against the 81st FIFA ranked side.
Staying a part of Netherland Antilles for 56 years, Curacao players do have the know-how and technical superiority of the European football superpower and it was clearly reflected in the lack of dip in their form since they became a member of the FIFA list in 2011. They have so far, competed in the 2014 and 2017 FIFA World Cup qualification, 2012 Caribbean Cup qualification, won the 2014 and 2017 Caribbean Cup, the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, and the ABCS Tournament as well.
While it did take the side some time to get their squad right, Curacao have lost just nine games in the last three years, which shows their journey from a 151 ranked side in 2011 to World No. 75 in 2016. It also gives a fair idea of what the Blues Tigers would be up against.
Formation and tactics
Taking charge in 2016, manager Remko Bicentini has lost only five times in the sixteen games that he has managed and has stuck to either a 4-2-3-1, or a 4-3-3 defensive formation. Unlike his opponent Stimac, who focuses more on securing a clean sheet over anything else, Bicentini has the tendency to go all-out up front for the kill relying more on their forwards. Consequently, Curacao have managed to keep just five clean sheets with his boys scoring as many as 38 goals in 16 matches, which could be a huge worry for India.
Another huge advantage for Bicentini in Curacao has been his seamless transition of the top four. While Rangelo Janga has been their regular sole forward with Jarchinio Antonia and Gevaro Nepomuceno on the wings and Elson Hooi as the playmaker, the Dutch manager has often been seen tweaking the players. Hooi is seen moving to the left with Brandley Kuwas taking the no.10 role and Gino van Kessel replacing Janga from time to time. The changes aren’t as obvious though, with other players also being asked to play out of their skin from time to time.
The defensive setup pretty much remains the same on most occasions though, with Leandro Bacuna, Jeremy de Nooijer, Shermaine Martina forming the pivot two regularly. However, Bicentini doesn’t flinch from calling on full backs Dustley Mulder, Michael Maria, and others to play in the deep midfield role from time to time.
While Bicentini excels at making the most of his available options, the few players that always give a winning chance to the side are Rangelo Janga, Leandro Bacuna, Cuco Martina, and Eloy Room. Of course, others are often found sticking out their heads from time to time, but these four are in a way lynchpin to the side.
Having previously played in the Netherlands’ U-17 and U-19 side, Janga shifted to Curacao for regular game time and he has proved his mettle by scoring 10 goals in 14 matches so far. Though he hasn’t been very effective in front of the goal for his club, FC Astana, he has the experience of playing in the Europa League and UEFA Champions League.
Cuco Martina would be a slightly known name for the Indian fans, who have been following English Premier League. The right-back has played for Southampton, Everton, and Stoke City before moving to Feyenoord and is the national team’s captain. Treading on the right flank, Martina has shown himself to come handy when the opponents allow him to move up.
In central midfielder Leandro Bacuna, we have a Premier League player who made 10 appearances in the league last season and while Cardiff City are relegated this season, having him as an opponent won’t be easy at all. Bacuna has previously played for Aston Villa and Reading FC and would be responsible for keeping the side in shape.
Another very important member is goalkeeper Eloy Room. The custodian has been Bicentini’s most trusted general at the back and pretty much shoulders all the responsibility of organizing the entire defence. Having as many as 24 caps for his country, Room has played for the likes of Vitesse Arnhem and PSV Eindhoven, which matched Ajax’s points on the Eredivisie table.
While Igor Stimac might have asked for just 10 days of training to prepare for the tournament and it is also true that the outcome here would in no way affect his career as the national coach, but India would want to leave a lasting impression after donning the jersey for the first time since getting ousted from the AFC Asian Cup.
Though we have a fair idea of how Stimac has deployed his men on previous occasions with various clubs and the Croatian team, fans would go in blind. However, as far as Curacao’s preferred tactics are known, India would be naïve to go all out in the attack. Going by that, Stimac’s pre-dominantly defensive formation would be of great help and we expect the manager to go for a stalemate in the first match.
However, the problem would be India’s defensive players. With Anas Edathodika’s retirement following the AFC Asian Cup exit, Stimac would be having a lot of new players coming up with experience, not their forte. In Sandesh Jhingan, Pritam Kotal, and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu still dependable to a certain extent, fans would be excited to see the likes of Nishu Kumar, Rahul Bheke, and others starring in the national team, but with the very first project this tough we can only keep our fingers crossed.
On second thought though, I feel we could focus more on our strengths than trying to paper over our defensive cracks, which clearly needs time to get stronger. It could jolly well be a risky but effective plan to play on the counter at full throttle to find out what the new generation forwards are capable of. In the likes of Michael Soosairaj, Udanta Singh, Jakcichand Singh and others, India have some serious pace at its disposal and Curacao might feel inept in tackling them. After all, sometimes offence is the best defence.
Cricket FootBall Kabaddi
Cricket FootBall Kabaddi