Suriname making a name
© FIFA.com

Located in the north-eastern corner of South America, Suriname play their football in the North, Central American and Caribbean zone. Generally considered minnows in their adoptive region, the A-Selektie have been experiencing a significant revival in recent months.

The Surinamese rolled over island side Montserrat in March in the first round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ before sending highly ranked neighbours and heavy favourites Guyana out of contention to seal a place in the first qualifying group stages. In addition to putting them two steps closer to a debut in a world finals, the recent results have also seen Suriname jump up 58 places in the FIFA/Coca-Cola world ranking.

Having moved only three places in the three months from April to June of 2008, they went all the way from 145th to 87th in the July count to become the month's best movers. Their current position also represents Suriname's highest-ever ranking and the first time they have cracked the top 100.

Now ahead of such renowned football nations as Austria and Algeria, Suriname are hoping to take the next step in their meteoric climb by finishing in the top two of their preliminary group, which would put them in the final stage of CONCACAF qualifying for South Africa 2010. In their way in the section - considered the weakest of the three - are Haiti, El Salvador and Costa Rica. They meet the Caribbean champions Haiti in Port au Prince on 20 August in their first game of the section.

The recent rise in the rankings places the Suriname side above such regional powerhouses as Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Guatemala. It is rarefied air indeed for the Republic of just over 500,000, that gained independence from Holland in 1975.

The smallest country in South America, Suriname have a relatively proud history in the Caribbean sub-region, having won the Caribbean Cup in 1977, and finished runners-up two years later and fourth in 1994 and 1996.

A former colony of the Netherlands, Suriname is also well known for having produced some of the finest players in the history of Dutch football. Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Ruud Gullit, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Frank Rijkaard, Aron Winter and 'the Suriname Diamond' Romeo Castelen are just some of the Dutch national team stars past and present who were either born in or draw their bloodlines back to the steamy equatorial outpost.

However, a peculiarity in Suriname's governmental policy does not allow players who leave to play professional football in Holland - estimated at around 150 at present - to return to play for the A-Selektie.

"Players with hopes of making it in football usually leave Suriname early," said national coach Kenneth Jaliens, who is uncle to Suriname-born Dutch international and AZ Alkmaar defender Kew Jaliens. "If you leave here and go to Holland you can't play for our national team anymore, which is a domestic political decision and a real shame."

Options limited
The connections to some of Holland's best players are impossible to ignore. One famous name in the current Suriname national team is Giovanni Drenthe, younger brother of Real Madrid's jet-heeled winger Royston Drenthe. He supplies service for the free-scoring Clifton Sandvliet, Suriname's all-time top scorer with 79 goals in 68 internationals.

Most of the national team are amateurs and plucked from sides like SV Robinhood and SV Transvaal, who hold the distinction of being the only Surinamese outfit to have won the CONCACAF Champions Cup (in 1973 and 1981).

Despite not having access to their huge talent pool of Holland-based professionals, Suriname are showing that they can still produce impressive results. With their current position in the top half of the global standings and looking forward to taking on some of CONCACAF's best sides in the coming months, the Surinamese are moving in the right direction despite varied and numerous obstacles.

"We have a good team at the moment," coach Jaliens recently remarked. "We have shown a great deal already. Why can't we go on from here?"