The expression ‘football family’ is part of everyday vernacular these days. However, when Guy Ramos utters the phrase in relation to the Cape Verde Islands squad of which he is a valued member, the sincerity in his voice leaves no doubt he also means it in a literal sense.
“We're so close and get on so well together that when we go back to our clubs, all of us actually feel quite low,” the international defender told FIFA.com. This excellent team spirit appears to be the key factor in the progress made by the island nation, which has never been in a better position to secure a berth at a major international competition.
“Everything’s better organised than it was three years ago, and we’ve matured together as players and as a group," said the RKC Waalwijk centre-back, whose club just recently lost out to Vitesse Arnhem in a play-off for a place in next season’s UEFA Europa League. "We now have a lot more players in good European leagues; inevitably, that’s made us more competitive. We’re finally on the right track to qualify for a major tournament.”
On the bench for his country’s opening 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match, a resounding 4-0 victory over Madagascar, Ramos has witnessed first-hand the recent rise of Les Requins Bleus (Blue Sharks), who now sit 76th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
“During the last three qualifying campaigns, we’ve fallen a few points short, and we just didn’t get the rub of the green at times,” continued Ramos, born to Cape Verdean parents in Rotterdam, home to a large immigrant community originating from the African country.
“Now we’ve got the necessary quality, and I know that it will eventually pay dividends," he said. "We have a golden opportunity to make it to the Cup of Nations, and we have to seize it. We’ll rarely get a better chance to qualify so quickly for the event, so we need to take advantage of it.”
Playing in his first full Eredivisie campaign after four terms in the second division, Ramos more than held his own and made 29 appearances. Satisfied with his season, he sees clear parallels between his own progression and that of his national team.
“A few years ago, there were still amateurs representing the Cape Verde Islands. All that’s behind us now. These days, we’ve got some bigger names playing for us, and that’s raised the overall level," he said.
"Getting called up has become something of a springboard, because it gives players a chance to shine on the international stage,” added the centre-half, who is currently sidelined with injury and uncertain to play a part in his country’s two 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying fixtures in June.
Cape of good hope
With a squad gathering scheduled for 23 May, national coach Lucio Antunes will have just over a week to prepare his side for crucial clashes in Sierra Leone and at home to Tunisia. As usual, veterans Lito and Nando will play an influential role in a dressing room that is still young and adapting to international football. “They’re leaders within the squad, and I have huge respect for them both,” said Ramos.
As for the upcoming matches, the Waalwijk player is cautiously optimistic: “We’ll know more after these two games. If we win them both, we’ll be off to a tremendous start.
"The group of players that we’ve got now allows us to dream a little,” concluded Ramos. "At home, we’re really solid, so if we’re serious about qualifying, it’s away from home that we’ll need to get results. Tactically speaking, we’ve made a lot of progress, we play well as a unit and we fight hard for each other. Everyone comes back to help out defensively – that’s a great sign."
With such a confident, close-knit team, it is possible that the wider football family will be seeing a little bit more of the Cape Verde Islands at high-profile competitions in the future.