Cape Verde has qualified for the African Cup of Nations for the first time. But the government of the tiny country can't afford the cost involved and so Cape Verdeans themselves are being asked to help.
Blue sharks plow the oceans in many parts of the world. They inhabit deep waters and can be found in the Atlantic Ocean off the Azores, Madeira or the Cape Verde islands. They feed on smaller marine life, including squid. They do not prey on humans, nor have they been known to consume lions.
Yet in the world of African soccer, which is rich in animal metaphors, this is exactly what has happened. Cape Verde, represented by Tubaroes Azuis (Blue Sharks), will become the smallest country ever to compete at an African Nations Cup finals after qualifying at the expense of four-time African champions Cameroon (Les Lions Indomptables – The Indomitable Lions).
Cape Verde qualified 3-2 on aggregate in October and will make their debut at the African Cup finals. Cameroon will not be putting in an appearance.
Ever since, the people of Cape Verde have been in a state of soccer-induced euphoria. "I believe this success is uniting all Cape Verdeans," said Jorge Fonseca, the country's president. "We will now enjoy the qualifying and prepare for the final phase of the Africa Cup."
That could be easier said than done. "This is the first time we have qualified. It's all very new for us," said national team coach Lucio Antunes. Yet the Cape Verdeans' chief problems are financial.
Modest player bonuses
A cursory glance at the bonuses paid to players shows how frugally Cape Verde is running its Cup of Nations operation. For qualifying for the finals, each player will receive an additional 200,000 Cape Verdean escudos (1,814 euros, US $2,392 ). Altogether 25 players received a total of around 45,000 euros. By way of comparison, when Germany made it through to the semi-finals of the Euro 2012, the German Football Federation (DFB) handed out 100,000 euros – to each individual player!
The cost of travelling to South Africa for the finals in January 2013 is a burden on Cape Verde's national budget "We are getting some assistance from the government, but we are really counting on the support of all Cape Verdeans," said Mario Semedo, president of the Cape Verde Football Association.
He declined to name any figures, but said the journey couldn't be financed with government funds alone. That's why the association has started a funding campaign "Operation Africa Cup" (Operacao CAN 2013), the highlight of which was a benefit concert in the capital Praia. The country's postal service has also chipped in, bringing out a set of commemorative stamps. Ten percent of the sales will go towards financing the team's South African trip.
Blue Sharks and Antelopes
In Group A of the Cup of Nations, the Blue Sharks will meet the Sable Antelopes of Angola, the second Portuguese-speaking team in the tournament. Morocco and the hosts South Africa are also in Group A. "These are teams we know well," said Semedo, apparently unimpressed by the overall strength of the group. "A team that can knock out Cameroon at the qualifying stage, can face every other opponent in Africa with a certain measure of self-confidence," he added.
In FIFA's football rankings for November 2012, Cape Verde came in at 63rd place, ahead of traditional soccer-playing nations such as Austria and Scotland and their three opponents in Group A, Morocco, South Africa and Angola. That makes Cape Verde the favorites in Group A.
Cape Verde's media say the unexpected punch that the national team is now delivering is due largely to the work of coach Lucio Antunes, but also to that of Mario Semedo who has done much to put the national football association on a more professional footing. Antunes has even been compared to coaching greats such as Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho or Brazil's Luiz Felipe Scolari.
But he waves such flattery aside. "They are two coaches who operate on quite a different level and can draw on a completely different realm of experience," Antunes declared. "The comparison simply isn't justified. But I would give anything to be Mourinho or Scolari," he added.
Coached by the coach in Madrid
To prepare for the African Nations Cup, Antunes spent a week shadowing Mourinho in Real Madrid. The famous Portuguese coach thought very highly of him. "Antunes is an intelligent coach. He has his own ideas, is well organized, methodical and ambitious. He's a very good coach!"
Blue sharks often swim slowly when on the surface of the water. They have plenty of stamina and are strong swimmers, covering vast expanses of the oceans in a single stretch. "We are dreaming of reaching the quarter finals," said Antunes. "And then, who knows, we might even get to the semi-finals," he added.