Tiny Cape Verde is Africa Cup of Nations' Cinderella story
When Cape Verde coach Lucio Antunes entered the press conference room in Port Elizabeth on Sunday, he found his team had gotten there before him.
They were lined up on the dais behind the desk, bouncing up and down in glee as a African Football Confederation official sat sheepishly in the foreground, aware he had formalities to complete but unwilling to interrupt the jubilation.
Defender Gege, wearing his shirt back to front, leapt on a chair and carried on dancing. Antunes, at 46 and a little too old for that sort of thing, initially looked a little uncomfortable but then, after some awkward shuffling, draped himself in the flag and began directing the celebrations. Usually, he directs planes.
For Cape Verde even to be at the Cup of Nations is an underdog story for the ages. For it to reach the last eight at the first attempt is extraordinary, all the more so as it’s the smallest nation ever to qualify for the finals.
If its population of 501,000 moved en masse to a city in the U.S., it would be only the 34th biggest, slightly smaller than Albuquerque and Tucson, and just a little larger than Fresno and Sacramento.
Its coach isn’t even full-time, Antunes working as an air-traffic controller in the capital, Praia.
Yet Cape Verde has a proud football heritage. Nani, Patrick Vieira and Henrik Larsson all have enough Cape Verdean ancestry to have played for the archipelago.
Even Cristiano Ronaldo has a Cape Verdean great-grandparent. There has been dark talk from outsiders of Cape Verde scouring the globe for those who qualify as Cape Verdean through a grandparent or who might be prepared to accept a passport of convenience.