By Santokie Nagulendran
When Guyana, aka the Golden Jaguars, play Suriname this Thursday in Paramaribo, it will mark the
fourth International game for the Guyanese National team this calendar year. To put that in perspective, that’s more competitive games in the past four months than the whole of 2013 and 2014 combined, which is both a credit to the brisk work of the FIFA Normalisation Committee and an indictment on the part of the previous administration led by Christopher Matthias.
Being geographical neighbours and both having had a unique colonial history in regards to South America, it is no surprise that when it comes down to football, Guyana and Suriname are also on a similar trajectory at this point in time: hugely optimistic of the future thanks to the potential of overseas recruitment. The Golden Jaguars made headlines in the Caribbean recently, and indeed, England, when they recruited ex-Premier League stars Neil Danns and Matthew Briggs to the National team, and the two stood out in a clinical 2-0 victory against Grenada. With more players of Guyanese origin currently playing in England rumoured to be interested in joining the Golden Jaguars, it will be intriguing to see how far the team can progress in 2018 World Cup qualifiers, having been unbeaten so far in the three friendlies they have played this year.
Suriname, on the other hand, have always been aware of their potential that has remained so close but yet so far. Dutch legends such as Clarence Seedorf, Ruud Gullit, and Edgar Davids have all been players that could have featured for Suriname if the Dutch Government had allowed it. Legal rulings however, currently prevent Dutch-born citizens of Surinamese descent from acquiring a Surinamese passport, and any person from Suriname who moves to the Netherlands has to relinquish their Surinamese passport. This law has effectively stopped Suriname from tapping into their potential, and their team at the moment therefore can only feature players currently based in Suriname.
However, with a recent Bill being put to the Dutch Government, there is optimism in Suriname. They have appointed Dean Gorré, a former player in both Holland and England, as their Head Coach, and have identified over 100 players around the world who are eligible to represent Suriname, with a substantial amount declaring interest in joining the team. A recent friendly was held in December between a Surinamese ‘dream team’ and Trinidadian club W Connection, whereby players of Surinamese-descent based in countries such as Holland, Greece, Cyprus and Bulgaria, were invited to feature in a ‘dream’ Surinamese team made up of players who would be able to represent Suriname should the law change. The match played out to a 1-1 draw and W Connection won on penalties, but the game highlighted the talent that Suriname could utilise if the law is changed when it is reviewed in June of this year.
For now though, Suriname will rely on their domestic-based squad to face Guyana, who will also be utilising young, domestic players in this game taking place outside of the FIFA International window. Suriname, similar to Guyana, have played little International football over the past two years: they exited the Caribbean Cup in the first round of qualification (same stage as Guyana), yet have had a strong 2015, recently winning the ABCS Tournament in February, a competition between Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao and Suriname.
The two sides have met each other 30 times over the course of history, and Suriname have won 18 of those ties, so history favours them. However, with momentum in the camp, and confidence at a high in the Golden Jaguars under the mentorship of Jamaal Shabazz, Guyana should be confident of a victory. The majority of the Surinamese team play for club side Inter Moengotapoe, a side which Alpha United, the Guyanese league champions featuring numerous Golden Jaguars, defeated just over a week ago, giving an indication of how this tie will turn out.
Both Suriname and Guyana are nations looking at the long-term development of their teams via recruitment of diaspora, and as such, in a few years’ time, a tie between Suriname and Guyana could represent a battle between the two strongest sides in CFU. Whilst this game will not feature a full-strength Golden Jaguar side, it represents an opportunity for players on the fringes of the team to claim a stake in the first XI for the all-important World Cup qualifier in June against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. More importantly however, the game on Thursday continues the consistency of regular competition for the Guyanese National Team, and that can only be a good thing for the development of the sport in Guyana.
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