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Leandro Bacuna, Curaçao set to open Gold Cup against Jamaica

For the first time since 1973, Curaçaoan footballers will be competing in the finals of a CONCACAF championship. But don’t be surprised if Villan Leandro Bacuna and his teammates make some noise in their maiden Gold Cup.

Queens Park Rangers v Aston Villa - Sky Bet Championship
Leandro Bacuna and Curaçao make their Gold Cup debut tonight — but don’t be surprised if the island of just over 150,000 makes some noise at North America’s continental championship.
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Long gone are the days where Aston Villa had internationals across the squad — dropping down a division and shedding foreign players for English ones will do that to you — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a Villan left chasing an international crown this summer.

That’s because Leandro Bacuna’s been suiting up for Curaçao, and recently, the small island just off the Venezuelan coast has been making moves in CONCACAF, qualifying for their first Gold Cup en route to winning their first-ever Caribbean Cup last month, defeating Martinique and Jamaica, both by 2-1 scorelines. The Villa man has been involved every step along the way, too — he suited up for Curaçao in all six qualifying matches (which served as qualifiers for both the Caribbean Cup and Gold Cup finals), notching four goals to be the joint-fourth-highest scorer in qualifying. He started both Caribbean Cup matches, too, and figures to be in the XI tonight as Curaçao open Gold Cup play against Jamaica in San Diego, California.

Drawn in a group alongside Jamaica, El Salvador and a weakened Mexico side, getting a result tonight would go a long way toward qualification to the next round, guaranteed to the top two teams in the group, and available to two of the three third-placed sides.

In fact, Curaçao might be considered a bit of a dark horse to make a run in this tournament. Despite this being their debut, they’re the second-highest ranked team in their group in the latest FIFA rankings, and fifth-highest at the Gold Cup, and led by a perhaps surprising amount of European-based talent for a side representing an island of 150,000. Goalkeeper Eloy Room is the starter between the sticks for Vitesse, while players like centre back Darryl Lachman (Willem II) and winger Gevaro Nepomuceno (Marítimo) join Bacuna in the outfield with significant first-division experience.

Bacuna — who like most of the Curaçao squad was born on the mainland Netherlands, eligible to represent the island through his heritage — shows on the CONCACAF site as deploying on the midfield’s right side in a 5-3-2, but has played anywhere from central midfield to centre back since first appearing for Curaçao in March 2016.

If British-based Villa fans want to watch Bacuna, it’ll be a late night — kickoff is at midnight BST — but it’s a fine hour for American-based supporters, a 7 p.m. EDT start on Fox Sports 1.

Curaçao’s group stage will continue Thursday, when they face El Salvador in Denver, Colorado, for an 8 p.m. EDT start, and conclude next Sunday against Mexico, another 8 p.m. EDT kickoff, this one in San Antonio, Texas.