Cape Verde coach Lucio Antunes says he and his side “have a great deal of respect for South Africa” ahead of the opening match of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

The Blue Sharks, who will be making their first appearance at an AFCON tournament, take on host team Bafana Bafana at the National Stadium in Soweto on Saturday evening.

Antunes has been the mastermind behind Cape Verde’s rise to prominence in African football, culminating in their stunning 3-2 aggregate victory over heavyweights Cameroon in the final round of qualifying for AFCON 2013.

The former air traffic controller, who had a week’s internship with Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho last month in preparation for the tournament, told Fifa.com that just reaching the AFCON finals is a major feat.

He also underlined his respect for the challenge of playing in the opening game, which will see a sold-out Soccer City well and truly behind Bafana Bafana.

“Just being part of the tournament is already a great achievement for us,” said Antunes.

“Participating in the opening game, with all the media exposure that this entails, is a privilege – albeit one that requires us to be up to the occasion.

“We have a great deal of respect for South Africa, who will be playing at home in front of more than 80 000 fans, but we’ll represent our country with pride.”