For many years the only reason that people knew where Cape Verde was located was purely because it was the only place in Africa that would allow South African Airways to refuel during the Apartheid era, and helped the airline and the country maintain links with Europe.
Now the tiny country made up of ten islands in the Atlantic ocean off the West coast of Africa with a population of just over half a million is on everyone’s lips for a very different reason, for in its very first African Cup of Nations Cup finals it has made it through the group stage and into the quarter finals. A truly remarkable achievement that no doubt has many other African nations green with envy.
It is hard to put this achievement into context, except by comparing it to the rise of Hoffenheim in German football and Wimbledon in English football, both clubs who rose from the minor leagues in their respective countries to compete in the top divisions in a very short space of time.
Cape Verde is the country with the smallest population taking part at the African Cup of Nations and a similar achievement would be that of Trinidad and Tobago or Costa Rica making the World Cup finals.
Cape Verde joined FIFA in 1986, and just a few years ago was ranked 182nd in the world. They have now climbed to a position just outside the top fifty. A rapid rise and a truly amazing one.
Their fans were kept on a knife edge during their game against Angola as whether they progressed to the quarter finals was largely dependent on the other game being played simultaneously, South Africa versus Morocco. For ninety minutes the rode the wave of emotions as one minute they were through before suddenly they were not; that roller-coaster ride that makes being a fan so special and memorable when the final whistle sounds.
Despite many being surprised their achievement should not come as that great a shock when one looks at the genetic stock of Cape Verdeans. A study taken in the last ten years revealed that their ancestry is 15.9% African and 84.1% European in the male line and more than 10% West African in the female line. With Portugal being the former colonial master they come from good footballing stock.
In fact Cape Verde has produced or had links to some very good players over the years, former Swedish player Henrik Larssen’s father is Cape Verdean, Patrick Vieira’s mother is Cape Verdeanas is Patrice Evra’s, both of these players playing for France. The Netherlands’ Luc Castaignos mother comes from Cape Verde.
While the following players who have or do play in the Portuguese national team are all Cape Verdeans such as Nani (Manchester United), Jorge Andrade (Porto, Juventus) Rolando (Porto) and Nélson Marcos (Benfica, Real Betis, Osasuna). Imagine how good they would be if they had managed to hang onto some of these players.
There is no doubt they have charmed Africa and the football world in general in this tournament and many will be watching their games with far greater interest in the future. Surely they couldn’t go on to become the first African nation to win the World Cup? is that too much to dream?