FIVE DAYS IN SEPTEMBER
South Africa have two twoWorld World Cup qualifiers in five days against the enigmatic Cape Verde Islands as both seek to stay on the road to Russia. Mark Gleeson gives an in-depth analysis on the “Tubaroes Azul” (Blue Sharks) and gets expert opinion on t
It was an afternoon of expectation at Soccer City on January 19 four years ago at the start of the African Nations Cup finals. South Africa had stepped in to take over as hosts of the 2013 tournament from war-torn Libya and, in the wake of hosting the World Cup just three years earlier, had high hopes of being crowned continental champions. But their campaign was dogged from the start, as much by their own nerves as by other circumstances, not least being held to a goalless draw in the opening game by the tiny Cape Verde Islands. It was then something of an embarrassing result, for the Cape Verdians were not much more than a fairytale story. They had just qualified for their first finals and they were joyously keen to prove their worth.
As one of the continent’s smallest
countries, with a population of just over 500 000, they had no right to be in such auspicious company, given the paucity of their resources. No country of that small size had been to the finals before and the islanders were not expected to be much more than whipping boys. But it was evident after that opening game that the legend was going to be extended and the fairytale would have some added chapters. The former Portuguese colony went through with South Africa – both on five points – after dramatically scoring two late goals to beat Angola in Port Elizabeth before eventually going out to Ghana in the quarter-finals. Two years later, the Cape Verdians were back at the Nations Cup finals again, this time in Equatorial Guinea, and were incredibly unlucky to depart early after three successive draws. In between the two Nations Cup finals appearances, they came close to making the final round of World Cup qualifiers, eventually losing out to Tunisia on a technicality after they were docked points for using a suspended player.
The engineer of their success
was Lucio Antunes, who during his four-year tenure as coach, moved his country from a ranking of 108 to an incredible 35th in world football. Antunes was initially a part-time coach, working as an air traffic controller at Sal, the airport built to allow South African Airways to refuel their Boeings on long haul flights to the USA. He left later for a club job in Angola with former Portugal striker Rui Aguas taking them to the 2015 Nations Cup, but Antunes has since returned to the helm for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. But the basis of his 2013 generation has moved on and this time round, the magic seems to have disappeared.
The Cape Verdians have lost
their last four competitive internationals and are yet to pick up any points in their World Cup qualifying group. They beat Kenya 2-1 on aggregate in the preliminary round, but in the group were beaten in Senegal and then at home by Burkina Faso. In June, in their opening match of the 2019 Nations Cup qualifiers, they suffered another setback when they lost to Uganda
(read the opinion of their coach Mi lu tin Sredojević, right).
The bubble looks to have burst and although they are still sticking to the same formula of finding most of their players from the ranks of the large migrant communities in Portugal, France, the Netherlands and the USA – where more Cape Verdians reputedly live on the eastern seaboard around Boston than in the islands themselves – the crop is not as fullsome as before. KO visit www.kickoff.com
(Right) Bafana were held to a goalless draw in their previous meeting against Cape Verde.