CAF Africa Cup of Nations rookies Cape Verde Islands had already created a sensation by merely qualifying for the 29th edition of the showcase event of African football at the expense of Cameroon's Indomitable Lions. On Saturday, they continued the trend by holding the host South Africans to a goalless draw in the tournament's opening game, and far from being satiated, the Blue Sharks' players told FIFA.com that they are now looking for more.
When Cape Verde secured their place at the finals of the AFCON, most neutral football fans thought that the Blue Sharks would do little more than make up the numbers in Group A of the competition, where they were drawn with experienced campaigners Morocco and Angola as well as Bafana Bafana. And likewise, the islanders, who represent the smallest country to have ever qualified for the finals of the continental championships, remained modest in their preparations before the event. However, the opening day draw in the cauldron of Soccer City has seen them become even more determined. "For Cape Verde, we want our first victory in the Cup of Nations to be here in South Africa in the first AFCON in our history. We can be proud of what we achieved in our first-ever game at the finals, but now, after the draw, we want more. We have to be ambitious," said Julio Tavares.
The 24-year-old striker, who plays his club football for French club Dijon, came on as a second-half substitute for midfielder Platini at a time when coach Lucio Antunes was throwing men forward in an attempt to stun the hosts – in itself a good indicator of the positive thinking of the coach and the side. Tavares, who started his career with lower-league club Bourg-Peronnas in France, before moving last year, is now looking forward to their next game against Morocco. "If we play like we did against South Africa, we can do something good. I think we can beat them," he said.
It is never easy to play in front of a hostile crowd, but we did well and showed we could really act as a team.
That is an ambitious view in the face of the challenge against the 1976 African champions, who feature numerous well-known internationals, but it is a mood shared by much of the team. "We have no reason to go into our next game suffering an inferiority complex. Having said that, Morocco, like all the teams in North Africa play good football, but we are going to do our best and play our game,” said Fernando Varela, who plays his club football in Romania for Vaslui after joining them from Portuguese club Feirense at the beginning of the season.
The centre-half, who was born in Portugal, explained after the South Africa match that the islanders could not help but be positive given their performance in the nervy opener. "We are happy with the draw against the host country. It is never easy to play in front of a hostile crowd, but we did well and showed we could really act as a team. We have to keep on this way to create a surprise in this group," he said.
A happy coach
Also satisfied with the result was Antunes, who brought a squad comprised mainly of European-based players to the tournament. Ranked 15th in Africa and 70th in the world - 15 places better in the world rankings than Bafana Bafana - the Blue Sharks took the game to the hosts and were rewarded for their efforts with a goalless draw. "For me, it was mission accomplished," said Antunes. "The team was excellent, we did the job we came to do and met our objectives, and now we can concentrate on our next match against Morocco."
Surprisingly his team, who also secured a 7-1 aggregate victory over Madagascar en route to the finals, had the better chances against the hosts to the dismay of the home supporters. "I am happy, the players are happy and the technical staff are happy. We represented our country well. It is a small country of 500,000 people, but we made them proud today."
With the second game in the group between Morocco and Angola also ending in a goalless stalemate, the table remains evenly poised ahead of the second round of matches in Durban on Wednesday. For the traditional underdogs, that means another result against Morocco could open up the door to something that could never have been dreamt of a few months ago: A place in the quarter-finals of the continental championship.