Dutch-born Cecilio Lopes has a father from the Cape Verde Islands but has never been to the island archipelago, or Africa, before. After making his debut as a second-half substitute in Cape Verde's friendly in Luxembourg on Tuesday he may well be the only African international who has never been to the continent.
That is sure to change on Thursday when the 29-year-old striker from Rotterdam touches down in Yaoundé as part of his new country's national squad.
For Lopes it is a dramatic turn in fortunes after a season in which he has made a slow recovery from an Achilles tendon injury, going from a bit-part player with his Dutch club SC Heerenveen this past season to a potential FIFA World Cup™ footballer.
"I'm really looking forward to my first African trip, I haven't heard much about Cameroon but a lot about Africa," he admitted to FIFA.com. "I am told it's beautiful so I am glad I can travel there and see something of the world."
Bizarrely, a week later he will head to the Cape Verde Islands off the west coast of Africa for the first time too. The second Group One match for the team is at home in Praia against Tanzania. "I never had a chance to go there before. It will be a great experience to go the village of my father and to meet relatives that I have only seen in pictures and on a video before. Now I will see them in real life," he said.
Lopes, who admitted his Portuguese (Cape Verde's official language) was scant, began his new international career at the weekend, joining up with his new teammates and then winning his cap against the Grand Duchy. "It has been a very interesting five days for me," he smiled. "I had been asked before over the last four years to play for the national team of Cape Verde but I never went because I had injuries and at the start of my career I was also involved in the youth set-up of the Dutch national team. But with two other Dutch guys there in the team (Guy Ramos and Silvino Soares), I said 'OK, let's try it out'."
Lopes said the sensation of becoming an international player was no
different to any other game but the notion of playing for his father's birth country filled him with desire. "I played with all my heart like I always do," Lopes said. "The assist came from me and if I can give joy with my play then it's great for me. My family were in Holland, it was a bit far for them to come but I called them to tell them and they were very pleased."
Saturday's match for the 107th ranked team in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking will be a stern test against highly fancied Cameroonian. But despite the tag of minnows, there is always the hope of the unexpected.
"We will all give 100 per cent but we all know Cameroon are the favourites in our group. But if we have a good day and if they have a bad day, then I think with the quality we have we can get a good result. In football anything can happen," insisted Lopes.
"I had a big injury this season but I have been playing for the last six months and it has being going well. I feel strong and fit. I am desperate to play this weekend," the player went on.
The match presents a chance to rub shoulders with the likes of Samuel Eto'o and veteran captain Rigobert Song, legends of the African game. "Of course that will be nice. It's always to challenge to play against big players. On Saturday, I will try to achieve something good for the Cape Verde and maybe they will remember me also," he quipped.