Why Bafana Bafana can’t take Cape Verde lightly in Afcon quarter-final

Bafana Bafana Ronwen Williams has marshalled his troops well at the Africa Cup of Nations in the Ivory Coast. Picture: Weam Mostafa/BackpagePix

Bafana Bafana Ronwen Williams has marshalled his troops well at the Africa Cup of Nations in the Ivory Coast. Picture: Weam Mostafa/BackpagePix

Published Feb 1, 2024


Such was Bafana Bafana’s impressive defeat of Morocco on Tuesday night, it would not be surprising to have many considering a spot in the semi-final of the Africa Cup of Nations a certainty.

Coach Hugo Broos essentially said that much prior to Bafana’s glorious 2-0 win over Morocco in San-Pedro, after all. The Belgian actually even looked past the penultimate stage of the biennial continental showpiece.

“If we beat Morocco, we have a big chance to play in the final. We will know we have beaten a very good team, and in the next round, we will avoid a big team,” the silver-haired coach said.

South Africa’s next opponents are definitely not a big team – Bafana set to take on Cape Verde in the quarter-final on Saturday night (10pm kick-off, SA time).

So yes, why would a team that clinically dispatched the continent’s No 1-ranked football nation slip up afterwards?

How can an outfit beaming with so much confidence not make quick work of one that was long supposed to have gone home?

Well, for the same reason that most are proclaiming this the best Afcon ever.

For the same reason all of Senegal, Egypt, Cameroon, Tunisia, Algeria and Ghana are no longer part of the on-the-pitch festivities in Ivory Coast.

For the same reason that the host nation are still standing, despite having had such a wretched first round where they fired their coach – only to find themselves sneaking into the knockout stages and then sending the holders packing.

Nothing can be taken for granted, given the tournament’s peculiar tendency to produce surprise results. This has been an Afcon of the underdogs … Bafana’s progress confirms that much.

They were underdogs against Morocco, and their victory is – rightly – being described as one the tournament’s biggest shocks.

In their opening match against Mali, who beat them 2-0, they were underdogs.

Historically, they would have been favourites against Namibia, but with the Brave Warriors having won against Tunisia and Bafana defeated by the Eagles, it was touch and go prior to that match.

Even after their 4-0 demolition of Namibia, you still had doubts as they squared up against Tunisia.

That will not be the case on Saturday, though, because the win over the Atlas Lions has now cast Ronwen Williams and co under a different spotlight – that of the team to beat, and how Cape Verde would love to do just that.

And the Blue Sharks know they can.

In any case, the tiny west African island country have twice got the better of Bafana Bafana to send shock waves coursing through SA equivalent to those reverberating in Ivory Coast right now.

Of course, the majority of the current Blue Sharks squad would not have been present for those back-toback 2-1 victories in Praia and Durban back in 2017.

They will, however, be aware of that proud record, and you can bet they’d love nothing more than to replicate that.

They will remember, too, that when South Africa hosted the Afcon in 2013, their predecessors earned a credible point on their tournament debut courtesy of a goalless draw against Bafana and went on to reach the semi-finals.

Such history should inspire, right? Add to that their incredible showing this year in which they emerged victorious out of a very tough group that included record Afcon winners Egypt, as well as four-time champions Ghana, and you have a Cape Verde side that are a potential banana skin for Bafana.

But why is it that such a small country – Cape Verde has a population of around 600,000 – with very little resources and a league that cannot even produce a team competitive enough to go past the preliminary stages of the continental club competitions, is making such waves?

Well, their football association did what is now common and went around the diaspora to find players with Cape Verdean origins.

Of their 26-member squad, only 10 were born in Cape Verde.

The rest are players born in countries such as Portugal, France and the Netherlands, but have roots – through their parents or grandparents – in the country.

Stopira is the only player in the squad based at home, with the rest spread all across Europe – in Portugal, France, Turkey, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, Russia and Slovakia – as well as in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, plus the US.

Not many of their players are attached to a well-known club, though, with Bebe’s Rayo Vallecano and Ankaragucu, for whom Garry Rodrigues plays, as well as Logan Costa’s Toulouse perhaps the most recognised clubs worldwide.

Yet what they lack in reputations and big names, they make up for with a lot of hard work, dedication and a fighting spirit that has seen them impress in the group stages against revered outfits to get to where they are now.

Against Mauritania in the round of 16, they’d have been expected to win. They are now certainly underdogs against Bafana for Saturday’s match.

And one would expect that, as the most senior among the coaches at the Afcon and a former winner, Broos would be wily enough to know just how dangerous the underdogs can be and prepare his team accordingly.

After all, he showed it with Tuesday’s victory over Morocco – right?