🇨🇼 - 'Early adopter' Cuco Martina now dreaming of Curacao World Cup success
Plus: What's happening with Keylor Navas and Costa Rica?
The new recruits continue arriving for Curacao. This month, former Newcastle United midfielder Vurnon Anita will become the latest. Before him, before the Bacuna brothers, before even longtime goalkeeper Eloy Room, there was Cuco Martina.
Now 31, Martina began representing Curacao at age 16 in an Under-20 competition and made his full debut more a decade ago, long before Guus Hiddink took the reins and even before Patrick Kluivert and Remko Bicentini began engineering the turnaround that has seen Curacao become one of the best teams in the Caribbean.
“I came there, but it was not like serious, you know? The training ground and the gear that we wore and stuff was not so professional,” he said Monday in a phone call. “It's really funny, because you see people come in to ‘the new Curacao,’ and when when I was first there, there was nothing there you know?
“To see how Curacao has grown, it’s something special.”
Martina has played a key role in that revolution. If Hiddink plays him in this month’s World Cup qualification matches against St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Cuba and the subsequent two WCQs against the British Virgin Islands and Guatemala he’ll have reached the 50-caps mark, standing as Curacao’s leader all-time.
Curacao needed pioneers like Martina, who even when he was playing regularly in the Premier League with Southampton and Everton was ready to fly across the Atlantic during international breaks or forfeit offseason time to play in tournaments.
Martina cites his thunderous, bending right-footed goal on Boxing Day against Arsenal as his second-favorite moment from his club career with his debut against Newcastle on top.
“We had lost six games or seven games in a row,” Martina said. “We knew it would be a tough game, you know, because you’ve already lost seven games in a row and now you have to play against a big team. It was my first start and to score the opening goal was something amazing.”
Martina currently is a free agent looking for a club. Citing lifestyle reasons, closer proximity to national team obligations, and good reviews from Room and former Saints teammate Victor Wanyama, the defender said MLS would be an ideal destination.
“I’m 31 now. I’m still fit and want to achieve things,” he said. “I’d like to make it in America because it’s such a good league. I’ve followed it for two or three years now. I know some players who went there to play and all tell me great things about the league. I promised myself I’d like to make a career in America.”
He hopes his performances in March can help draw the eye and lead to an opportunity. Not that he isn’t planning to impress.
“I know it’s not easy to play in Concacaf. It’s quite hard. We respect Guatemala, but we know our own quality, and, honestly, the quality of players in our team we are much better than them,” he said. “We need to make sure we stick to the game plan and beat them easily.”
From there, Martina said that Hiddink’s Curacao plans to chase lofty goals like a Gold Cup final (and perhaps even a trophy) and securing a place in the next round of World Cup qualification and, why not, making it to Qatar.
“To be honest, We can go very far,” Martina said. “It's a dream to achieve the World Cup. For such small island it’d be something great and special.”
Martina certainly has seen it all with Curacao. Now he’s looking for a beautiful end to a long career for both club and country.
🇨🇷 - What is happening in Costa Rica?
Here’s a reader question from Josedo.
It seems like the phrase you’ve chosen is a good description.
Costa Rica stars Keylor Navas, Celso Burges and Bryan Ruiz are in court against former federation executive Adrián Gutiérrez because of comments he made on a radio show in 2018. Gutiérrez accused the players of being willing to lose games intentionally
Ex-federation president Eduardo Li, no stranger to a courtroom, testified Monday that Navas and his teammates knew of a clause in then-manager Jorge Luis Pinto’s contract saying it could be rescinded if he lost three matches in a row (side note: this is a horrible clause) and that Navas said they’d lose three games in a row to trigger it. The players deny those allegations and say their issues with Pinto were not sporting but rather based on his treatment of players.
Pinto is set to testify today.
From my very outside perspective, it’s a shame things are going down like this. It seems like the sort of thing that often comes out in a tell-all book or something a decade or so after the a World Cup success or failure. Instead, because of honor (and, it seems, careless comments), it’s happening in a courtroom.
Great news for the women’s game with Jonathan Tannenwald reporting that Concacaf is planning to launch a women’s Champions League after the 2023 World Cup.
The new Nations League competition already should be a boon for the international game in the region, and competition between NWSL and Liga MX Femenil, plus the growing Central American leagues, should foster the same sort of growth.