Cape Verde shocks a continent with AFCON quarter-final place
African Cup of Nations debutants Cape Verde beat Angola 2-1 to book their place in last eight
In what must be portrayed as one of the true Cinderella-style stories of 2013, Cape Verde humbled Angola 2-1 to secure a place in the last eight of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Goals from Fernando Varela and a 90th minute winner from playmaker Héldon Ramos were enough to dismiss the 'Black Antelopes' of Angola, and cement their place in not only Cape Verden history, but also in the confines of their fans hearts.
The unsuspecting reader might dismiss the enormity of this achievement as trivial, irrelevant, maybe even unimportant. But that would be wrong, for this is a feat for which the utmost praise must be given.
For those of you who snored their way through geography classes, Cape Verde is a pocket of ten islands off the western coast of Africa in the centre of the Atlantic Ocean.
Just over 500,000 people reside in this former Portuguese colony, a population akin to the city of Manchester. When you consider that they only received independence from Portugal in 1975 and that their most recent opponents Angola have over 18 million inhabitants, suddenly the reader can begin to grasp some of the difficulties the Cape Verden FA face when trying to field a semi-competitive football team.
The average football punter who supports an English Premier League side might struggle to name two or three footballers who hail from Cape Verde. It's more than likely that he or she wouldn't be able to name even one. But it may come as a shock to hear that the likes of Henrik Larsson, Manuel Fernandes, Patrick Viera, Rolando and Silvestre Varela all passed up the opportunity to play for the 'Blue Sharks'.
No, I did not make that up - Henrik Larsson's mother was indeed born on the Cape Verden shores before making her way to Sweden to give birth to the greatest player in SPL history.
But arguably the biggest loss to the 'Blue Sharks', who was born in Cape Verde, is the Manchester United winger Nani. Now what a prospect that would be, Nani donning the blue and red of the Cape Verdens. Yet Nani, like many of his fellow Cape Verden footballers, chose to represent his adopted country Portugal, and has since gone on to become an integral member of his national side.
This results in a tiny selection panel, with a familiar trend of the talented footballers shunning the 'Blue Sharks' in favour of greener pastures abroad, notably in Portugal.
By taking a look at the eleven who started against Angola, one can begin to comprehend the scale of the task at hand to beat Ghana on Saturday.
Two of the starting eleven ply their trade in Cape Verde, a semi-professional league where players get paid a fraction of the wages players in England, even compared to the English Championship or League 1.
Two play in the second tier of the French league, with the rest scattered between the lower echelons of the leagues in the Netherlands, Romania, Cyprus and Portugal.
Héldon Ramos plays for Maritimo, but he is only a bit-part player for them. Only Lille winger Ryan Mendes can boast of playing for any team worth recognition in Europe. Couple this with the fact that he has only made nine appearances for the 'Les Dogues' and now their achievement begins to be appreciated.
So, how do these minnows conquer the 'Black Stars' of Ghana to provoke even more incredulity around the Africa Cup of Nations? How can the unknowns like Gégé, Babanco, Mendes and Héldon defiantly brush aside the tournament favourites and send Gyan, Atsu and Essien packing their bags home?
Well, there are a number of things the Cape Verden players can take heart from. They have already caused a shock by dismissing African footballing giants, with the likes of Samuel Eto'o among their ranks, 3-2 on aggregate in the qualifying process. They finished joint top of a tough Group A with South Africa, with the hosts pipping them on goal difference, to reach this stage.
They have already achieved history and confounded the pre-tournament predictions, thus leaving them devoid of any pressure. Who is to say that the 'Blue Sharks' won't claim another scalp along the way? This reporter is certainly not brave enough to rule it out.
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