The country called Cape Verde was only five years old as an independent nation when Nigeria hosted and won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1980, but the Creoles may be the West Africans’ undoing on Tuesday
The Super Eagles and the Blue Sharks face each other today at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in the final group match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, with everything still on the line.
The Nigerians sit atop Group C with 12 points from five games, but they remain only two points above the Islanders, who can overtake them with a memorable win in Lagos.
Even though a point will be just enough to see the Eagles advance, the pressure is on the three-time African champions to win and confirm their superiority over a side more than 40 places below them in the FIFA ranking.
Gernot Rohr’s men are clearly the favourites ahead of this make-or-mar fixture, but anything is possible in football, and it would be foolhardy to underrate the Blue Sharks. For if there’s any African minnow who can produce a shocking result on any given day, it is the Cape Verde national team.
But what dangers can a team that only qualified for their first Afcon eight years ago pose against the Eagles, who were already African champions more than four decades ago?
The Blue Sharks are chasing a dream
Cape Verde have never qualified for the FIFA World Cup, but this is the closest they have come to make it to the Mundial, and the whole ten-islands nation is already dreaming of being in Qatar next year.
Nigerians will remember the last time the Super Eagles came up against a Portuguese-speaking nation chasing a World Cup dream.
Angola held an Austin Okocha-skippered side to a draw in Kano in 2005 when all the Eagles needed was a win of any kind on home soil.
Suffice to say, Nigeria missed out on the Germany 2006 fiesta.
The Cape Verdeans are here chasing a similar dream, and it would be naive to brush them aside with the wave of the hands.
Cape Verde fear no foe
The Super Eagles go into this battle against a Cape Verdean side that manages to produce their best football when facing more illustrious opponents.
Despite being rated lowly in global football, the Creoles have claimed the scalp of some big football nations in recent times.
Over the past few years, Cape Verde have beaten South Africa home and away in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, stunned Algeria 3-2 just months before the Warriors won the 2019 Afcon, and defeated Portugal 0-2 in a friendly.
When they need to deliver against bigwigs, the Blue Sharks often do.
The Blue Sharks have got a never-say-die character
It is a testament to their undying fighting spirit that the Islanders still have a chance of qualifying from Group C despite their defeat to the Super Eagles in Mindelo on matchday two.
Ordinarily, the Nigerians should be home and dry now after managing four wins out of five, but Cape Verde have stuck close by after winning each of their last three matches.
The Blue Sharks have had to come from behind in two of those victories to highlight their strength of character and keep the dream of a first-ever World Cup Finals alive.
Their biggest star is… teamwork
While the Nigerian national team is loaded with known stars like Napoli’s Victor Osimhen, Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho, and 2019 Afcon top scorer Odion Ighalo, Cape Verde have no standout performer in their squad.
Coach Bubista’s men have scored seven goals in five qualifying matches so far, but those have been shared around with only Julio Tavares netting twice.
Rohr may have his game plan on caging that fox-in-the-box Tavares, who rose to become Dijon’s all-time top goalscorer before he left France last year.
But behind the 32-year-old Al-Faisaly striker are ten other players who will chase down every ball, shed sweat and blood, and give their all from the first minute to the last on Tuesday.
No team is more dangerous than one chasing a dream with an irrepressible spirit, fearing no foe, and fighting with their collective strength – all clear attributes of these Cape Verdeans. The Super Eagles better beware.