Curacao (pictured) convenes for a team photo prior to its Caribbean under-17 qualifier against Suriname on September 19, 2016, in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo: CA-Images)
PANAMA CITY, Panama – Curacao last played at a CONCACAF Under-17 Championship in 1996, when it competed as the Netherlands Antilles.
The more than 20-year wait for a return to the same stage came into clearer picture on Tuesday night as the draw for the 2017 edition was conducted at the Sheraton Panama Grand. Head coach Ludwig Alberto discovered that his side will face host Panama, Honduras and Caribbean champion Haiti in Group A.
Then, he took a minute to crystalize the significance of the occasion.
“This is an historic moment for us because it had been 20 years since Curacao qualified for the event,” Alberto told CONCACAF.com. “It is very important for the youth of Curacao. Curacao is very proud of our youth right now and we’re going to go for it, to make a good tournament for CONCACAF.”
The Curacaoans earned a place in the CONCACAF finals after finishing fourth in Caribbean qualifying with an overall 3W-2D-3L record. Nathan Bernadina, who was MVP and top scorer (11 goals) at the 2015 Caribbean Under-15 Championship, led the way with eight goals, while Shurendric Fransinet was just as impressive with six.
“We started with this group about four or five years ago and we put them like in a college system, training two or three times a week,” said Alberto, a former Curacao senior squad manager. “It was very important and now you can see that they play soccer very well.
“We also have a couple of players from Holland and we put together a good team that understands the tactics.”
When you’ve waited 20 years to perform again on a grand stage, there’s no time to waste and Alberto has the side working hard ahead of the April 21 opener against the Haitians.
“We started already with preparations and it’s going very well,” he remarked. “Our main problem is that four to six of the guys are playing right now in Holland. They will come in December and also in January because we have to train together. You can’t come two or three weeks before the tournament because it’s a big tournament for us.”
Can Curacao pull off a surprise and make an impression in Panama?
Alberto is optimistic.
“We’re going for it,” the 54-year-old finished. “We have an advantage because nobody knows Curacao. They have to study us, but we know a lot of things about the other teams. That’s our advantage. We’re going to go for it, for sure, in April.”