Durban, South Africa – With a chance to reach the quarterfinals in their first appearance at the African Cup of Nations, Cape Verde's players are just trying to enjoy their already successful campaign.
The team from the tiny islands off western Africa earned improbable draws in its first two matches, moving into position to advance from Group A. The first draw was against host South Africa and the second against powerhouse Morocco.
Cape Verde has two points - two less than South Africa and the same as Morocco - and a victory against last-place Angola on Sunday in Port Elizabeth will be enough to send the team to the next round.
“For us it's just a priceless present being here at (the African Cup),” captain Fernando Neves said. “Now we need to play and enjoy. Our aim was just to be (here). We're off to a good start and we now want to finish well.”
The 34-year-old defender, who plays for French second-tier club Chateauroux, says the goal is to reach the quarterfinals, but admits the team has already overachieved just by making it to the tournament.
“We do not feel any pressure because we came here to enjoy the moment,” he said.
A former Portuguese colony, Cape Verde has been in celebratory mood ever since it ousted Cameroon in a shortened qualifying campaign to book its place in the 16-team finals in South Africa. Reaching the last eight would be a remarkable feat for the country of just more than 550,000 people off the coast of Senegal.
“What we've done means a lot to the people of Cape Verde,” Neves said. “We've worked hard to get here, there are still possibilities in this tournament and it will all depend on the next game.”
Coach Lucio Antunes said this group of players has shown that Cape Verde deserves to be respected.
“Our players have proved themselves,” Antunes said. “My players have been able to perform and prove their worth. Now they can go and play here in South Africa or for Real Madrid or Manchester United or any of the big teams. What I have seen is that I have a bunch of quality players who are up there with the best in the world. They have earned their place, they must be respected.”
The squad is made up of entirely European-based players with the exception of reserve goalkeeper Fredson Tavares. Neves, better known as Nando, is the most experienced player in the group.
“I have been playing with this team for almost 12 years now, practically with the same people,” he said. “It feels like family. You leave your family to play, but the team is like a second family. That is why we play well together, we are a group of friends.”
Neves says their success in South Africa will help make people realize that Cape Verde is not “only about music or tourism.”
“We're strong in football, too,” he said. “After church, the second religion is football. So first is religion and then is football, we just love the game.” – Sapa-AP