On the A1 this afternoon, somewhere around Fort Kinnaird on the outskirts of Edinburgh, while it was hammering it down with rain, I received what for me was definitely the best sporting news of the weekend. After watching Scotland’s World Cup qualifying campaign almost certainly end on Friday night, the lack of anything much interesting on Saturday and Andy Murray’s mishaps against Novak Djokovic this morning, the news came through via the BBC website’s excellent coverage – Cape Verde had qualified for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
Having holidayed there last year and absolutely loved the country and its people, I have followed the fortunes of their national football team since, including last month’s incredible 2-0 win at home to Cameroon, the first leg of their two-legged final qualifier for next year’s tournament. Prior to the second leg, the hype had been all about the return of Samuel Eto’o to the side, the President of Cameroon himself having been among those who persuaded Eto’o to end his self-imposed, Roy Keane-esque exile after criticising the “amateurish” preparation for the first leg in Praia. Cape Verde, I had feared, might suffer from a Cameroon side playing at home with their one world-class player back in the side, and a new manager sitting on the bench. Surely a two goal deficit would be easy for the Indomitable Lions to overcome in front of the baying Yaounde crowd.
As it was, the Blue Sharks from the former Portuguese colony took the lead on 22 minutes, with a free kick from Heldon Ramos of Maritimo. 3 down with an away goal against them was simply too much for Cameroon to come back from. Achille Emana bagged an equaliser for the home side 10 minutes later, but Cameroon didn’t score again until the final, vaguely-glowing embers of the match, youngster Fabrice Olinga finding the net in the fourth minute of stoppage time. A 2-1 win on the day was nowhere near enough for the Indomitable Lions as Cape Verde advanced to their first ever Africa Cup of Nations finals tournament 3-2 on aggregate.
Cape Verde have thus created a little bit of history for themselves. A country with a population of little over half a million, but with a wide diaspora across Europe, particularly in former colonial masters Portugal, have beaten African footballing royalty to reach their first major international tournament. Having watched them (admittedly only on the TV) come so close to qualification last year while I was on holiday, I am thoroughly delighted for each of those 500,000 Cape Verdeans who will no doubt currently be partying on the streets of Praia, Sal Rei and Mindelo. Roll on the draw on 24 October, and then the Cup of Nations itself which begins in Johannesburg on 19 January 2013.