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Cape Verde can cause Africa Cup of Nations shock again

Cape Verde, as a football nation, have had to battle against the odds throughout their whole history since their first official match in 1978, after getting independence from Portugal three years earlier.

The tiny country, which is made up of 10 volcanic islands off the west coast of Senegal in the Atlantic Ocean, has a total population of just over 500k. This makes Cape Verde the smallest participants for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations.

However, they were the first nation to qualify for the finals that go on from January 17th to February 8th, 2015, along with Algeria, and have been placed in a favourable Group B, also consisting of Zambia, Tunisia and DR Congo.

It has not been straight-forward for Cape Verde, nicknamed the Blue Sharks, to get to this stage (now ranked 39 in the world by FIFA), though, after having to overcome many obstacles.

Despite being separated from Portugal, the European nation have still poached players to represent them at international level. Former Navigators international Rui Aguas is Cape Verde’s head coach, though.

Big names born on the islands, but who chose to represent Portugal, include Manchester United’s Nani (on loan at Sporting Lisbon) and Porto centre back Rolando. While other players with Cape Verde heritage, such as Manuel Fernandes, Silvestre Varela, Eliseu, Bebe and Ricardo Pereira have all, seemingly declared themselves for Portugal as well.

Switzerland’s Gelson Fernandes is another born in Cape Verde’s capital Praia, but represented a different nation, and there are many more names who have turned their back on their roots.

Another hindrance the nation had recently, was being disqualified from the 2014 World Cup play-offs, due to fielding an ineligible player Fernando Varela in a 2-0 win over Tunisia, who went through instead.

But Cape Verde have carried on despite those knock-backs, and finished top of their Africa Cup of Nations qualifying pool. They now have a great chance to emulate their quarter-final appearance in the last edition (2013), losing only to Ghana, which was the first time they made it to the finals.

They will have a chance to gain revenge on Tunisia up first on January 18th Nuevo Estadio de Ebebiyin in Equatorial Guinea, who host this year’s tournament after Morocco got stripped of the honour.

While there are no big names especially in the current Cape Verde set-up, they will be hoping that Sporting attacker Heldon Ramos will be on target again, as he top scored for the Blues Sharks in qualifying with two. He is the nation’s joint-leading marksman with 10 goals, and also got the crucial winner against Angola at the last Africa Cup of nations.

Other players currently plying their trade for more fashionable European teams include defenders Fernando Varela (Steaua Bucharest, now eligible) and Gege (Maritimo); midfielders Toni Varela (Excelsior), Platini (CSKA Sofia, and no relation to the current UEFA president); and forwards Ryan Mendes (Lille), Odair Fortes (Reims), Garry Rodrigues (Elche, on loan from Levski Sofia) and Ze Luis (Braga).

They are perhaps lacking more in goal, with only Vozinha (18 caps) and Fock (11), who play for African clubs, gaining more than one Cape Verde appearance out of recent call-ups. They can take a chance of Portugal-based youngsters Ken (Nacional), Somada (Gil Vicente) and Thierry Graca (Benfica B) if they wish, though.