Yet another success story from the South African AFCoN in 2013, Cape Verde exceeded all expectations making the Quarter-Finals and even then exiting in controversial fashion. The Blue Sharks had been widely expected to return home after the group stage but went through unbeaten with South Africa at the expense of the much-fancied Moroccans and Angola. Up next it was the Ghana Black-Stars, once again one of the favourites to win the competition. The game took place at Nelson Mandela Stadium in Port Elizabeth, the Black Stars victorious by 2 goals to nil but all the talk after the game was around Cape Verde and the astonishing campaign that had now sadly come to an end. The game itself was shrouded in controversy, a soft penalty given to the Ghanaians followed by a late breakaway goal, led a furious coach Luis Antunes to suggest it was a result that had been settled by the powers that be, before a ball was kicked. But they would leave South Africa with many more fans than on arrival and the scale of their achievement is perhaps still underrated.
Previous to 2013, Cape Verde in footballing terms was probably most famous for being the country that Henrik Larsson was born in. Even this is untrue, Larsson being a born and bred Swede, with a Cape Verdean father. With a population of little more than half a million, it wasn’t until 2002 that the group of small islands off the continent’s West Coast was to face a non-African team, securing a 0-0 draw with European heavyweights Luxembourg! The new footballing dawn for Cape Verde has largely been credited to Joao de Deus, who too over as manager in 2008, bringing in several new faces to the team from teams scattered across Europe. Progress continued to be made, now under the management of Lucio Antunes and the footballing world was shocked in October 2012 they defeated Cameroon over a two-leg play-of to secure a berth at South Africa 2013, the first major tournament qualification for the so-called minnows.
After the historic performance in South Africa, many did not expect to see Cape Verde back at a major championship again, putting it down to a one-off string of lucky results, or temporary momentum gained during a qualification campaign. But that momentum continued through 2013/2014, easing through qualification as only the second team to book their place in Equatorial Guinea, topping their group, guaranteeing their place with a game to spare. Now under the stewardship of another Portugese manager, former Benfica and Porto stalwart Rui Aguas, there will not be many writing them off at AFCon 2015.
Another team on the perceived easier side of the competition draw, many will be tipping the Sharks for another Quarter-Final appearance. Scheduled to face Tunisia on the second day of play, in Ebebiyin, followed by DR Congo and final group match against Zambia, I see this going down to the wire. Personally I see another Quarter-Final appearance for Cape Verde as one step too far this time round. Tunisia and Zambia both have the strength in depth to proceed in my opinion but would love to be proved wrong, again, by many people’s second-favourite National team. Making it this far is indeed a success story for Cape Verde, back-to-back tournament qualification for a team of their size and resources is truly mind-boggling, but it’s a 3rd place in the group prediction from me.