African Cup of Nations: From Cape Verde to Fantasy Island – a nation's flying

Air traffic controller Antunes has piloted his tiny offshore state to tournament's last eight

When the lives of hundreds of people depend on your decision-making, running a football team is unlikely to worry you. Which is why Lucio Antunes will approach the biggest match in his nation's short history with equanimity.

Antunes is the coach of Cape Verde, a 10-island archipelago 350 miles off the West African coast which has produced some serious football talent without ever coming to note. Until now.

This afternoon, in the Rustenberg stadium where England began their 2010 World Cup campaign, Cape Verde's Blue Sharks will seek to continue chomping their way through Africa's football elite.

The Sharks are the surprise team of the African Cup of Nations, shocking Cameroon to qualify for the competition and two other World Cup veterans, Morocco and Angola, to reach the last eight. Now they face Ghana, four-time winners and World Cup quarter-finalists. The archipelago will come to a standstill to watch it, but Antunes is unflustered.

He is in South Africa on secondment from his main job, that of air-traffic controller. "It is far easier to be a football coach because you have enormous responsibility when there are so many planes flying around," he said.

Not that the 46-year-old always keeps his cool. After Heldon, of Portuguese club Maritimo, scored the injury-time winner against Angola to put Cape Verde through, he did a lap of honour waving the national flag then sang to the media – as did his team.

Their delight was understandable. With a 500,000 population, Cape Verde is the smallest country ever to qualify for the ACN. Occupied by Portugal in the 15th century, it prospered as a slave trade stopover but suffered economically after abolition.

Independence did not arrive until 1975 and Cape Verde only joined Fifa in 1986. It jogged along the lower reaches of the Fifa rankings until a decade ago and was 107th as recently as 2008. But by then a development programme had been put in place, with Antunes heavily involved.

Thus, while descendants of Cape Verde's many emigrants feature, with five squad players born overseas, the bulk of the party are from the archipelago. Their achievements, said Simone Almeida, of the Riu Garopa Hotel in Santa Maria, on the island of Sal, have created widespread joy.

"Everybody is very excited," she told The Independent. "On the day of the Angola match in all the bars and cafés, everywhere with a television, people watched. There was jumping and screaming all over town. Afterwards everybody was partying, there were children in cars singing the national anthem. My mother said it was almost as big a party as independence."

Antunes is friends with Jose Mourinho and shadowed him at Real Madrid before the tournament. With a boldness Mourinho would approve of, he had previously hoped to play Ghana as "we want to compare ourselves against the best".

"Everyone will be watching the match, locals and tourists, all in flags and dressed up," added Almeida. "We know Ghana are a very strong team but everybody is very positive. We have achieved our goal, anything else we do is another win."

Whatever the result, Cape Verde's potential is considerable if they can continue to blend local talent with the diaspora. Among those who could have played for the islands in the past are Henrik Larsson, Patrick Vieira and Nani, while Cristiano Ronaldo has Cape Verdean ancestry, though a great-grandparent would not make him eligible. Their success in South Africa is bound to catch the eye of eligible players who might not previously have considered playing for them.

The global coverage should also help Cape Verde's growing tourist industry. "This has put the country on the map," said Almeida proudly.

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'