Blue Sharks coach wants bigger fish to fry

Cape Verde coach Lucio Antunes
Cape Verde coach Lucio Antunes

Football history is full of unlikely upsets and fairytale victories.

But few compare with the tale the Blue Sharks of the Cape Verde are spinning in their first ever Africa Cup of Nations appearance.

Their progress from obscure minnows ranked 182nd by Fifa a decade ago to a place just outside the top 50 last year is a remarkable rise by any standards.

With just 500,000 inhabitants, Cape Verde are the smallest country ever to play in the continental finals.

Their achievements will strike a chord in Cameroon, who they defeated 3-2 on aggregate in the qualifiers to reach the finals for the first time.

It was 23 years ago that Cameroon were being feted as Cape Verde are now for their achievements in the 1990 World Cup in Italy when they became the first African country to reach the quarter-finals and only missed out on a semi-final place after a narrow 3-2 extra-time defeat by England.

Cape Verde, who gained independence from Portugal in 1975 and only joined Fifa as relatively recently as 1986, did not even start competing in World Cup qualifiers until 2000 but a place in the World Cup finals at some point in the future is now looking a realistic target.

Their achievement in reaching the quarter-finals of this tournament was all the more satisfying for the inhabitants of the archipelago off west Africa given it came thanks to their stunning 2-1 win over Lusophone rivals Angola on Sunday.

Coach Lucio Antunes said he hoped they would face Ghana.

"We want to compare ourselves against the best in Africa and Ghana are among the best," he told reporters.

"We have already reached one objective here which was to qualify for the quarter-finals, no matter what anyone else thought, and we have done that. Why stop now? We want to carryon."

Antunes is certainly a man to get the best out of his men as the opening draw against the hosts and a subsequent draw against Morocco proved.

Both of those teams have far more pedigree than Cape Verde, both are former champions, but there is one thing they lack and Cape Verde possess - a singing coach.

Antunes started to sing a few bars of a traditional Cape Verde ballad "Biografia de um Criolo" during his post-match press conference and his skipper Nando, sitting alongside him, said the harmony he brings to the squad was key to their success.

"He knows us, what we can do and he is the architect of this success. But we want to go on and do more, and we have the belief to do it," he said.