By Tony Ubani
The tiny island of Cape Verde is the only debutant at the 2013 Orange Africa Cup of Nations under way in South Africa. The journey of the Blue Sharks to the final tournament was not rosy as they stunned four-time winners Cameroon in the qualifiers.
The Sharks tamed the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon 2-0 in Praia, but a 1-2 loss in the return encounter was little enough to ditch their hopes, ensuring they go through 3-2 on aggregate.
In South Africa, they have proved to all that their presence at this biggest stage in African football was not by chance holding hosts Bafana Bafana in the tournament opener before settling for a 1-1 draw with Morocco in their second game of Group A.
However, their biggest moment will come on Sunday, January 27 against fellow Luxophone brothers, Angola, whom they beat 2-1 to claim a historic place at the knockout stage of the continental showpiece event on their maiden appearance.
It was an emotion-filled scene at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth as the Islanders came from behind to score two goals, in what has been termed the “most dramatic last 10-times” so far at the 29th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations.
The Blue Sharks displayed a ‘never-say-die’ performance pressing their Portuguese-speaking counterparts in search of the result they so much desired. Fernando Varela reduced the deficit on 81 minutes before Heldon scored the match winner at the death after Angolan goalie Lama had spilled a harmless effort his way.
Mario Semedo, President of the Federação Caboverdiana de Futebol said that he never gave up even when things got difficult.
“I never gave up and I had the conviction we could come back. I know the quality of the team and I was certain it was possible,” he said with a broad smile on his face at the team’s hotel in Summerstarnd, a suburb of Port Elizabeth.
Moments after the winning goal, Heldon was joined by Coach Lucio Antunes on the pitch celebrating until the referee ordered them to the centre for the restart.
After the final whistle, the stadium erupted into ecstasy when the team’s qualification was confirmed. Head Coach Antunes carried aloft the national flag whilst responding to cheers from the few fans at the stadium.
“Our objective has been accomplished. We came here to win and we did just that. We have a good and the players showed their determination to win the game from the onset.
“I’m very happy with the performance of the team. They showed character and I’m happy for them.”
On their way to the dressing room, the team buoyed by the historic feat of reaching the quarter final broke protocol as the playing body stormed the Press Conference room, meant for the post match reactions, hailing Coach Antunes in the full glare of the media.
Antunes, himself was not left out of the joy, as he entered the press conference hall with a Cape Verde flag and began answering his questions by singing the national anthem with his frail voice.
The trainer posited a religious comment, alluding the drizzles during the latter stages of the game to a blessing in disguise.
“The rains were showers of blessing,” said the trainer, whilst captain Nando dedicated the victory to all Cape Verdeans across the globe.
“We dedicate the victory to all Cape Verdeans across the globe especially the President Jorge Carlos Fonseca. We thank you for the support.”
The Blue Sharks will face winner of Group B, Ghana at the quarters on February 2 at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.