CARACAS: Trained by Dutch coaches and with players seasoned in the English leagues, the Caribbean island of Curacao takes a giant competitive leap in international football this month.
The national team will compete for the first time in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the top international tournament for North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Their rise is attributed largely to Dutch former Ajax, Barcelona and Newcastle United striker Patrick Kluivert — son of a Curacao woman — who coached the island’s national side from 2015 to 2016.
The autonomous Dutch territory of 158,000 inhabitants has since surged in the FIFA world rankings from 150th place to 70th — ahead of Gold Cup opponents such as Canada, El Salvador and Jamaica.
Kluivert’s assistant Remko Bicentini took over in September as coach of the squad, made up largely of Dutch nationals with family ties to the island.
Their captain, right-back Rhuendly ‘Cuco’ Martina, 27, played for English side Southampton until this year and has been linked with a possible move to Everton.
Midfielder Leandro Bacuna, 25, plays for Aston Villa.
Under Bicentini, they beat defending champions Jamaica 2-1 on June 25 to win Curacao’s first ever international title, the Caribbean Cup.
“This means the world to me, my family, my teammates and all of Curacao,” said goalkeeper Eloy Room in an interview published by CONCACAF after the win.
“My mother is Dutch but my father was born in Curacao.”
Strikers Gino van Kessel and Felitciano Zcchusschen scored seven goals each in the tournament. Elson Hooi scored both Curacao’s goals in the final.
The Gold Cup kicks off on July 7 in the United States with French Guiana taking on Canada.
Curacao play their first game of the tournament on July 9 — against Jamaica.
“I think reaching the quarter finals is a realistic goal,” said Room.