Cape Verde: Not jumping the shark just yet
Cape Verde may not have had the most taxing qualifying group, but they still negotiated it well and became the first side to qualify for the Cup of Nations.
Coach Rui Aguas reorganised his side after the loss to Mozambique in October, but was still comfortable enough to rotate his options and explore the depths of his squad for the last two matches.
Thus, while Cape Verde are a settled side, they boast a number of options and, importantly, players who are comfortable and familiar playing alongside each other.
12 of the squad that contested the last Cup of Nations—the Sharks’ first—featured at least once in qualifying and, therefore, they do not lack experience either.
Such is the extent of the islanders’ recent progress, that their comfortable qualification this time around came in stark contrast to the stunned response to the minnows’ progression last time around.
They have proved that they are not merely at the continental high table to make up the numbers.
In goal, Vozinha of Progresso do Sambizano is a stable, athletic presence and will be backed-up by Ken of CD Nacional.
Ahead of him, talismanic skipper Naldo is no longer a presence with the national side, so Fernando Varela of troubled Steaua Bucharest (if we can still call them that) will be charged with leading the defence. I expect Gege to start alongside him, with another European-based player, Kay, in reserve.
While many players in Cape Verde’s squad possess beautiful, exotic and/or imposing names, the discarded centre-back, Pecks, isn’t one of them!
Nivaldo will likely start at left-back, with Carlitos on the right. The identities of the full-backs, and their approaches, will be identical to the last Afcon. The latter will, however, look to improve on his showing in the 2013 quarter-final against Ghana, when his clumsy shoulder block on Asamoah Gyan gave the Black Stars a penalty.
In reserve, Jeffrey Fortes provides cover on the right and Soares has chosen to take Stopira, of Videoton, should misfortune befall Nivaldo. Midfielder Babanco is also able to cover this role.
Nominally a left-winger, the Estoril-Praia man can provide energy, thrust and a creative left foot from the middle of the park. His dynamism may trouble Nathan Sinkala, of Zambia, for example, among other midfielders in Group B.
Calu, alongside him, is a more defensive prospect and his studious discipline will allow Babanco to move forward.
Players such as Sergio Semedo and Toni Varela have been named to provide cover for the midfield positions, although both Calu and Babanco played every minute of the Sharks’ first five qualifiers.
Up front, the West Africans have many options, although the boss many be concerned that, in 2014, they’ve failed to break down Zambia, Mozambique and…erm…Luxembourg. A little more toothless than Soares might like!
On the right, Odair Fortes wasn’t involved in the 2013 Cup of Nations, but has emerged as an important figure over the 12 months. He is a regular feature at Ligue 1 side Stade Reims and anyone intrigued about his contribution should check out his decisive showing against Toulouse earlier in the season.
Garry Rodrigues will likely start on the left, and both he and Fortes can contribute goals. Rodrigues learned his trade at Feyenoord and has impressed many since being introduced into the national-team fold.
Nuno Rocha may well take the central attacking role, although he is a tidy operator rather than a truly inspirational playmaker. He can comfortably drop between Calu and Babanco and prompt from deeper, possibly a useful tactic at the Afcon. One option I’d be interested in seeing more of, is more regular swapping between Rocha and Babanco, allowing the former to drop deeper and giving the latter the liberty to work the channels.
Platini—not as refined as his name suggests, sadly—can operate anywhere across the line behind the striker (or even up top), any may be another option for the No. 10 spot. Kuca brings similar qualities; both men prefer the left wing, but can replace Rocha as central midfielder if the Craiova man’s contribution is muted.
Up front, Ze Luis, who scored two in three starts during qualification, has missed out, leaving Heldon, a popular figure at the last Afcon, who managed two in only two starts. In the final qualifier against Zambia, Heldon and Rodrigues rotated between left-sided duties and leading the line—a potential approach to flummox defences.
Djaniny and Julio Tavares two more veterans of the 2013 showpiece, will be a reserve options from the bench.
Ryan Mendes hasn’t kicked on as many would have hoped in the last two years, largely due to fitness problems.
Injury affected his participation during qualifiers, although he did hit an important winner against Zambia on matchday two.
He has never before managed to make more than ten league starts in a single season for Lille and has never scored more than three goals in a single Ligue 1 campaign.
It’s nothing to write home about, but there have been recent signs, at least, that he can begin to step into the departed Salomon Kalou’s shoes at the Stade Pierre Mauroy.
However, it remains to be seen whether he will be a key figure for Aguas in Equatorial Guinea.