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

Kick Off - - FEATURE - BY MARK GLEE­SON | Twit­ter: @mark­gleeson­foot

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.

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