Van Kessel goals have Curacao on verge of history

Curacao forward Gino van Kessel (pictured) is the top scorer in the 2016/17 Scotiabank CFU Men’s Caribbean Cup with seven goals. (Photo courtesy of Federashon Futbol Korsou)

WILLEMSTAD, Curacao – A 3-0 win over visiting Antigua & Barbuda in a 2016/17 Scotiabank CFU Men’s Caribbean Cup, third-round match on Wednesday was important to Curacao for a pair of reasons.

With a victory at Puerto Rico on October 11, it can clinch a place in the competition’s semifinals. More significantly, perhaps, the Curacaoans will also earn their first-ever CONCACAF Gold Cup berth. 

A key player in those dual quests is forward Gino van Kessel, who – after netting in four straight games -- has a Caribbean Cup-best seven goals.

The 23-year-old was the top scorer in the Slovakian first division last year with 17 goals for Trencin, before joining Czech Republic side Slavia Praha in July. 

“It is amazing the progress the team has made in 2016,” van Kessel said. “We had a shaky start against Barbados, but after that, it has just been wins for us. The team has settled well and I feel that we will make history against Puerto Rico on Tuesday and get to the Gold Cup.”

Van Kessel believes that a Gold Cup place would lift the profile of football in Curacao immediately, but he doesn’t want to think that far ahead. 

“Qualifying for this tournament would be huge because we would be exposed to a lot of quality teams in the region and playing against them helps us to be better players and eventually help us to be more competitive in future World Cup Qualifying,” he finished. “For us, our focus is solely on Puerto Rico. After that, we think Gold Cup.”

The last Caribbean team to make its first Gold Cup appearance was Grenada in 2009, when it qualified on the strength of a runner-up finish in the 2008 Caribbean Cup.