Utrecht amateur soccer player meets Messi with Curaçao: ‘Not going to kick to death’
Jonna ter Veer
editor of NOS Sports
Jonna ter Veer
editor of NOS Sports
It’s 2:30 in the afternoon. Shanon Carmelia refreshes the mailbox on his phone. School for his two sons (6 and 8) is almost out. The soccer player knows he may be called up for Curacao’s selection for a practice match with world champion Argentina (tonight at 01:30 in Santiago del Estero).
He was in it since 2011. In 2017, he won the Caribbean Cup with his country. But he is now 34 and plays for Utrecht’s third division team Hercules. He would be the only amateur soccer player on the selection.
Just before he walks into the schoolyard, he refreshes his inbox once more. Suddenly the message from national coach Remko Bicentini appears: you’re in.
In shock of joy
Carmelia is in shock of joy, unable to utter a word. This means one thing: he gets to play against Lionel Messi.
Only at home, when the front door is locked and the breath has subsided slightly, does he tell his sons the news. “Dad!”, they shout, “we’re going to make a drawing. Will you give Messi our drawings?”
I’m not going to kick him to death, mind you. I get asked that sometimes, after that lost game of Orange in Qatar.
Curaçao is 86th in the FIFA rankings, Argentina at No. 2. The World Cup winner wants to celebrate the world title with some practice matches at home and sought contact with the island in the Caribbean Sea. This match could also be extra special for Messi himself: he is about to score his 100th goal for Argentina.
Los Azules versus Messi’s golden foot
Several Dutch-Curaçao soccer players have been called up for the selection of “Los Azules,” or “The Blues.
For example, Nijmegen native Eloy Room, goalkeeper for U.S. national champion Columbus Crew, has to make sure Messi doesn’t score that hundredth goal. “It’s going to be tricky,” Room laughs. “But that’s the intention, yes. I’m going to do my best.”
It will take some adjusting for the team. This weekend, Curaçao went down 2-0 at home against World Cup contender Canada.
It was a game on which much depended: the winner could directly qualify for the Gold Cup, the most important soccer tournament for country teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean. So that became Canada.
There is not long to grieve. On Monday, the team was already on a plane to Buenos Aires and then to Santiago de Estero. National coach Remko Bicentini proud: “Argentina is the dessert. You don’t get that match just like that. It means that Curaçao counts as a soccer country.”
Ten defenders? No.
That means something for the game, too. “We are not a team that comes and parks the bus.” By that, Bicentini means that he does not intend to defend with ten men. “Of the 10 times you meet Argentina, you lose nine times. But I want to believe in that one win.”
He literally sees it that way. Belief is omnipresent within the 24-member squad plus staff and he sees it as essential to focus and the road to success.
“Every morning we stand in a big circle, arms over each other’s shoulders, and then we pray. Our equipment man Sherwin Martina is incredibly good at leading in prayer. That’s how we give a certain strength to the team and to the players themselves.”
That chemistry is what sets the team apart from others, he says. To add, “And the player coach, of course.”
Because that painted party bus with open windows and upbeat music also boosts motivation. “Unfortunately, it can’t come with us to Argentina.”
And those drawings?
The ultimate goal is qualification for the 2026 World Cup. Carmelia hopes he can be there, too. First, just make sure he’s in the starting lineup, and then make sure Messi doesn’t get past him. “I’m not going to kick him to death, though. People ask me that sometimes, after the Dutch lost in Qatar. But this is Messi, you can’t do that.”
Perhaps the right-back will ask for Messi’s autograph afterwards. Although he also remains that humble boy from the Curaçao village of Boca Samí, who absolutely does not want to impose himself, even on the best soccer player in the world.
What about his sons’ drawings? He was already in doubt at home whether to give them to Messi. “What would he want with two children’s drawings of someone he doesn’t know?” He decided to be honest with his sons: put down the markers boys, better we play soccer.