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Tiny Cape Verde dreaming of more Cup of Nations heroics

CAPE Verde Island players said they were living a dream at the Africa Cup of Nations finals after booking their place in the knockout stage by beating Mozambique on Friday, but they added that they were not to be regarded as a Cinderella team.

Cape Verde is the smallest of the 24 countries at the tournament in Ivory Coast but the first to ensure progress to the last 16 as they moved into an unassailable lead in Group B of the tournament in the Ivory Coast.

“It is the stuff of dreams, and you have to dream, but it’s something we worked very hard for,” said Irish-born centre-back Roberto Lopes.

“We started the tournament with a great win against Ghana and we knew we had the opportunity to seal our place going into the Mozambique game, and the guys did everything they could to harness the chances,” he added.

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The comfortable victory included two spectacular long-range goals, and with group favourites Ghana and Egypt failing to win their opening two matches, Cape Verde is assured a top place in Group B.

“It’s amazing. We know we are a small country, but if we are united, we can achieve many great things. So I have to congratulate all my teammates and all the staff because we did a great job,” said 37-year-old goalkeeper Vozinha, who has played in all but one of his country’s 13 previous matches at Cup of Nations tournaments.

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Despite having a population of just over 600,000, they have become a dangerous prospect since making their finals debut in 2013. Their side is a mix of players from the island archipelago, plus diaspora communities in France, the Netherlands and Portugal.

“We might be a small country but we’ve got a lot of quality,” added captain Ryan Mendes, who played Ligue 1 football in France and is now based in Turkey.

“This is the fourth time we are playing at the Cup of Nations and we have a generation now with a lot of experience. I think we’re a tough prospect for any opponent.”

Mendes has played in all four of those tournaments and says the islanders now have much better players than on their debut 11 years ago when they upset the likes of Morocco to reach the quarter-final.

“But that first one was very good because we were a strong group, bound together. We grew up together in our country and we qualified for the first time in the history of our country. But I think this team has more quality,” he added.

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By MARK GLEESON

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