Published On: Thu, Oct 2nd, 2014

FIFA: ‘Curacao, past master forging bright future’

FIFAThe date was 18 August 2011. Some 13 months had elapsed since Spain’s glorious triumph at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa, and the thoughts of the footballing world were already turning to the tournament’s next edition at Brazil 2014. For Curacao, however, the date will be remembered as that of their away fixture against Dominican Republic, their first official international following their affiliation with FIFA at the start of that year, following the dissolving of Netherlands Antilles.

A little over three years on, the national team’s progression is there for all to see. In September’s FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, they recorded their best single-month improvement by climbing 34 places to 148th. So just how do a team with only 19 official games under their belt make that kind of progress?FIFA.com takes a closer look at the rise of Curacao.

Through the generations
Located just 50 kilometres off the coast of Venezuela, Curacao is a small island that was part of the Netherlands Antilles until 2010. Despite being just 444 square kilometres, the territory has a long and proud footballing tradition. Indeed, during the 1950s, the Antilles were a force to be reckoned with in the region and beyond.

Legendary goalkeeper Ergilio Hato, who gave his name to the stadium where the national team now play, was perhaps the most famous of the crop of Curacao natives who represented the Netherlands Antilles at the 1952 Olympic Football Tournament in Helsinki and helped them take gold two years earlier at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Guatemala. Such was his repute that he attracted the interest of Ajax, Feyenoord and even Real Madrid.

Subsequent generations were unable to match the feats of that great 50s side until its former No6 Wilhelm Canword took up the coaching reins. The team’s gradual improvement at regional level culminated in their reaching CONCACAF’s penultimate qualifying round ahead of Italy 1990. Current coach Ingemar Pieternella was a member of that side, who were only denied a Hexagonal berth by El Salvador.

A new chapter
With the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles, Curacao were given the latter’s 146th slot in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, their highest position to date. With Argentinian Manuel Bilches at the helm and only two friendlies against Dominican Republic by way of preparation, Curacao headed into their first official international against the same opponents in September 2011 lying 178th in the Ranking.

Fate then pitted them against Antigua and Barbuda, Haiti and US Virgin Islands in Group F of the second qualifying round of CONCACAF qualifiers for Brazil 2014. And while they failed to progress from the group, Curacao did manage a pair of victories against US Virgin Islands and a draw away to Haiti – moving them up to 149th place by November 2011.

In contrast, 2012 was a period of regression, as they closed out the year down in 177th place after losing all the qualifiers for that year’s Caribbean Cup. The following year, with Bilches by then replaced by Ludwig Alberto, only saw the team compete in two friendlies, defeating Aruba 2-0 but going down 3-0 to Suriname, leaving them 178th in the Ranking.

The tide would eventually turn in 2014. With Ingemar Pieternella installed as coach, Curacao geared up for their September qualifiers for this year’s Caribbean Cup. With victory over Grenada (2-1) and draws with French Guyana (0-0) and Puerto Rico (2-2), the islanders took control of Group 4 and climbed 34 places to their current standing of 148th in the Ranking.

That said, the team will not be basking in their improved standing just yet. October’s crunch qualifiers against Martinique, Guadalupe and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are just around the corner, and Pieternella will have to call on all his experience if he is to consolidate the team’s recent progress with a spot in the final stage of the 2014 Caribbean Cup this November.

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