Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Cape Verde revel in being underdog role
Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Cape Verde prepare to take on tournament big guns Ghana in quarter-finals
Watching Cape Verde manager Lucio Antunes give his media conference ahead of Saturday’s quarter-final clash against Ghana, you couldn’t help but cheer him on.
The full-time air traffic controller spoke with almost childlike enthusiasm as he pretended that the Special One himself, Jose Mourinho, was helping him plan a defeat of the Black Stars.
And as he picked up his Portuguese translator’s phone to pretend that Mourinho was on the line, Antunes reminded everybody of why Cape Verde is everybody’s second team this tournament.
For many, the Blue Sharks represent the plucky minnow side made good, gloriously riding their luck and ready to be snuffed out by the highly-touted Ghanaians.
Yet despite being the least populous nation at the tournament, the Creoles have recruited well from their expatriate community and now reside just outside Fifa’s top 50 in the rankings.
The perceived whipping boys of Group A possessed a streak of defensive steel, courtesy of the France-based Nando and Fernando Varela of Romanian side FC Vaslui.
And if they can frustrate the resurgent Asamoah Gyan, Antunes might yet find himself holding court to a pack of astounded journalists once again.
For Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah, Gyan remains the problem and the solution to all the Black Stars’ problems.
Strangely blunted against the lacklustre Congolese and a stubborn Mali side, Gyan suddenly and dramatically burst into life against the limited Niger, tormenting the Mena Stars in an all-action performance.
It is very much a question of which Gyan turns up on the night –if he can emulate his previous performance, even the sturdy Cape Verdean back line will be troubled.
But for Appiah’s men, a nation expects – consistently the bridesmaids of the Africa Cup of Nations, last year’s semi-finalists haven’t won the tournament since 1982.
Yet their progress has been fitful, and they have only shown flashes of the slick short-passing game which took them to the World Cup quarter-finals only two years ago.
And shorn of defensive generals John Mensah and Michael Essien they are defensively vulnerable – a fact shown when they relinquished a two-goal lead to DR Congo.
Against the opportunistic Creoles, these frailties may be exposed again – and if they are, the Ghanaian public might not forgive another near miss at what is rapidly becoming the team’s white whale.
So come the this clash, it might simply be a question of whether the Black Stars – and Gyan – can hold their nerve.