If Cape Verde Islands impressed by reaching the final eight in last year's CAF African Cup of Nations, their U-15 team's charge to the semi-finals of the Boys' Youth Olympic Football Tournament in Nanjing underlines the giant strides made in football development by this Atlantic archipelago with a population of just 500,000.
Despite kicking off with a 5-0 drubbing against Korea Republic in their opening match, Cape Verde Islands resurrected their campaign with a commanding 7-1 victory against Vanuatu in the final group game. Not only did this dominant display propel the west African challengers into the semi-finals, it also transformed the young Blue Sharks from minnows to big fish in the Olympic medal stakes.
Playing a central role in the game was an attacking partnership built at the port city club of Batuque. Striker Kenny opened the scoring just two minutes into the match, before club-mate and experimental right-winger Ricardo helped himself to a hat-trick. After the game, the duo shared their elation and aspirations with FIFA.com.
"We're very happy about this victory, the team's efforts paid off," began Kenny, before Ricardo chimed in: "We want to prove ourselves again, we want to go even further."
*Partners on the pitch, buddies off it *The Batuque duo worked hand in glove throughout the game, instinctively anticipating the other's every move. "We've played together at the same club for three years," said Kenny. "So when we compete in the same match we cooperate very closely together. Although our club isn't one of the biggest in Cape Verde, it pays great attention to training and developing young players."
Despite being longstanding team-mates and best friends, the pair's respective heroes are different, with Kenny idolising Argentinian maestro Lionel Messi whereas Ricardo prefers Brazilian frontman Neymar. But in terms of setting objectives at the Youth Olympics, the pair are definitely on the same wavelength. Kenny is adamant that nothing less than gold will do in Nanjing, while Ricardo goes one step further: "We want to use victories and a medal to bring joy to the fans back home," he added.
Interestingly, Ricardo started out as a defender, but coach Jorge Lopes pushed him further up the right flank fin their most recent match. The gamble paid off in spades, allowing Ricardo to express his attacking potential and make a match-winning contribution with two first-half strikes and another for his hat-trick just before the hour mark.
"Whenever I play as a full-back I'm very good at bombing on," he commented. "I attack right from the back to high up the pitch, looking for chances. The positional switch in this game was definitely a tactical adjustment by the coach and I did exactly what was asked of me."
Not content with contributing four goals to their country's historic maiden outing in a FIFA international competition, the two buddies are hungry for more success. Ahead of Cape Verde's semi-final skirmish against Peru, the pair have vowed to fight for another landmark victory.
"It will be a tough game so we have to prepare hard for it," remarked Ricardo with a note of caution, while Kenny was once again more forthright about the islanders' aspirations. "We really want to beat Peru and we're confident [that we will]," he said. "Our dream in participating in the Youth Olympic Games is to be the champions, we came to Nanjing to win the gold medal."