Three years ago, I labeled Curaçao as a dark horse candidate for the World Cup.
At the time, the Caribbean island was in just their second-ever Gold Cup (as Curaçao — they had previously played as Netherlands Antilles). Against all odds, they reached the knockout stages of the tournament and were looking better than ever. Curaçao ended up losing the quarter-finals by one goal to the United States, who reached the final.
When the World Cup qualifiers rolled around a couple years later, hopes were high. Curaçao topped the first stage with an undefeated record, before facing off against Panama to reach the final stage of qualifying. Panama won the first leg at home, and a draw in the second leg eliminated la Familia Azul.
Curaçao were just shy of qualification this year, and with the core of the squad aging, they need to reload with fresh talent. Of course, that’s hard for a nation with a population of 155,000, less than half of Iceland’s population. The local league is decent, but Curaçao pulls most of their players from elsewhere: specifically, the Netherlands.
Curaçao is Dutch territory, and many of the Eredivisie’s talents are descended from the island. But who could they recruit?
RW Tahith Chong, 22, Manchester United
Chong was born in Curaçao’s capital, Willemstad. He moved to the Netherlands for his career — another reason that Curaçao’s league can’t reach its potential. Chong played in Feyenoord’s academy before joining Manchester United. He earned nearly 50 caps at youth level for the Dutch, but none at senior level. Several loans have not worked, and Chong is likely to leave United. He’s talented, but a Dutch call-up does not look likely. He’d be a good fit for Curaçao, who scored only two goals at the last Gold Cup.
RW Sontje Hansen, 20, Ajax
Hansen is a product of the famous Ajax academy, joining when he was eleven. He has long been viewed as one of the club’s top prospects. Hansen debuted for the club when he was 17, but has only made one more appearance for the club’s senior team, as injuries have held him back. He’s featured multiple times at youth level for the Netherlands, even finishing as the U17 World Cup’s top scorer. His mother is from Curaçao, making him eligible, and he could help the offense in a big way.
CB Armando Obispo, 23, PSV Eindhoven
Curaçao’s backline is aging — just look at its recent match against Canada. Albeit, the squad was thinner because of the unvaccinated status of some of its defenders, but their center-backs were 30 and 32. Obispo is starting to establish himself as one of PSV’s starting defenders, so recruiting him would be a massive statement for Curaçao. Obispo has made 40 appearances at youth level for the Netherlands, most recently in 2019, so Curaçao should move before the Dutch are interested again.
CM Quinten Timber, 21, Feyenoord
Timber is already somewhat of a household name in the Netherlands. Quinten’s brother, Jurrien, has starred for Ajax in recent years, making nearly 80 appearances for the club since joining. Jurrien Timber has featured in the Champions League, making multiple appearances for the Dutch senior side — he was also eligible for Curaçao. Quinten is still eligible, though, and has been on fire, earning a move to Feyenoord this summer. He has yet to be capped at senior level, so Curaçao needs to act quickly.
RB Mimeirhel Benita, 18, Feyenoord
Benita is just 18 but already has appeared in a European competition. Last season he made his Feyenoord debut in Conference League Qualifiers and featured twice in the Conference League as the Dutch side reached the final of the tournament. So far this season, Benita has been on the bench for every Eredivisie game, as he has potential to earn a role this season. He has made several appearances this season for the Dutch U19s, but Curaçao could pursue him to secure their right-back of the future.
LW Justin Kluivert, 23, AS Roma
Kluivert has two caps at senior level for the Netherlands, with both coming in friendlies. However, he can swap nationalities since he has yet to make a non-friendly appearance for the Dutch. His father is the famous Patrick Kluivert, who won the Champions League with Ajax. Patrick temporarily took over as Curaçao’s manager, which reopened the possibility of Justin playing for them. Justin has revitalized his career with loans to Germany and France since his bad move to Roma, and he is likely moving to Fulham.
Curaçao’s recruiting has continued to improve, bringing in better players than ever before. Part of this is down to the recent return of legend Patrick Kluivert, giving the federation a reputation boost. It’s also partly down to the success of other dual nationals for the nation, with the likes of Eloy Room building his reputation around becoming one of CONCACAF’s best goalkeepers.
The main reason, though, that Curaçao’s recruiting is getting better is because of the success of the team itself. Curaçao has built its reputation as a strong team, with the Gold Cup helping the island’s reputation greatly. Now, they are reaping the rewards.
Image Courtesy of Werner100359, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
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