South Africa expects - and so does Cape Verde
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) -Millions of South Africans now expect the home team to make the quarterfinals at the African Cup of Nations, unleashing a new wave of potentially overpowering pressure on Bafana Bafana before Group A's final showdowns.
Few would have predicted that Cape Verde might make the last eight - except its outspoken and confident coach, who said on Saturday his unbeaten tournament debutants were better than they were getting credit for and also deserved to advance.
Having opened the tournament in stalemate a week ago, the host and first-timer emerged from that forgettable goalless draw at Soccer City to be leading contenders from Group A.
Only they arrive at Sunday's final round of group games from different angles.
As South Africa coach Gordon Igesund tried to play down his team's position in Durban by noting it "can't get carried away'' with a campaign-saving win over Angola, Cape Verde's Lucio Antunes built up his players in Port Elizabeth and said they were much better than everyone thought.
Good enough even for the best clubs in the world, he said.
"My team is not as weak as you guys think,'' Antunes told reporters. "We are strong home and away and we've got some fantastic players. My players can play at Chelsea, Manchester United, Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona. They can go there.''
Igesund will be happy - for now - if his players go to the quarterfinals.
Slowly rising from a poor start, South Africa needs a draw with Morocco at Moses Mabhida Stadium to make sure of qualifying. Cape Verde plays Angola at the same time at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and has to better Morocco's result to be certain of a spot in the last eight and a memorable first major tournament for the small island nation.
A win for Morocco against South Africa means Cape Verde could knock the home team out - and make itself doubly unpopular in South Africa after holding Bafana in the opener - with a victory over the slumping Angolans.
"We know what we have to do next,'' Igesund said, calling for calm and a win against Morocco to avoid complications. "We can't continue living in the past. We must start celebrating (only) once we qualify for the quarterfinals.''
All is not lost for Angola, either, which will go through if it wins and Morocco doesn't.
Whatever the permutations, Antunes was certain his team would be worthy of a place in the second round, while Igesund appeared desperate for his up-and-down team to prove it belonged there. A growing injury list and rising demands from the home fans after beating Angola 2-0 likely led to Igesund's caution.
Bafana Bafana looks like they'll have just two fit strikers to play against a Morocco team that has the simplest equation to work out: it has to win to go through.
"It's a match where there's going to be a winner and a loser,'' Morocco coach Rachid Taoussi told the South African Press Association on Saturday. "And when I slept last night, I had a good feeling that we can do it.''
South Africa could be forced to field the third different combination up front in three matches after injuries to forwards Lehlohonolo Majoro and Tokelo Rantie.
Cape Verde's Ryan Mendes and Luis Soares - the man who wears the famous `Platini' name on his shirt - should again lead the Cape Verde attack in a game that could prove beyond doubt that the country belongs at Africa's top tournament. If it hadn't done that already. Antunes has no doubt.
"We showed we have a great collection of players like South Africa, Morocco, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Ghana,'' he said.
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