Cape Verde eye last-eight place
There were chuckles from Group A rivals when Cape Verde coach Luis Antunes said before the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations that his team were capable of reaching the quarterfinals.
But Angola and former champions Morocco and South Africa realise now that the air traffic controller on a three-year sabbatical to handle the Blue Sharks was not joking.
After the first series of pool matches, the Africa Cup debutants from the 10-island archipelago of 500 000 people off the coast of Senegal are level on one point with the more fancied trio after both opening games ended goalless.
It could have been even better for the team that eliminated four-time Cup of Nations winners Cameroon as they missed the best chance of a drab draw against South Africa when Platini shot tamely wide with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Cape Verde face Morocco at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Wednesday in the second half of a double-header that kicks off with South Africa against Angola and a win for the islanders would move them within sight of the quarterfinals.
"The result against South Africa has given my squad enormous confidence. We had the better chances in that match despite facing the host nation in front of 80 000 supporters," said Antunes.
"I am so happy and so are the people back home. No one really took us seriously before the competition kicked off, but now they know we are no whipping boys."
"We were well organised at the back, restricting South Africa to a couple of half chances, and now we must improve our sharpness up front to achieve a beautiful dream and reach the quarterfinals."
Morocco also know that victory would leave them well placed to make the round of eight and succeed where the Atlas Lions of 2006, 2008 and 2012 failed and won only two of nine matches.
It is a disastrous record for one of the strongest football nations on the continent and their lone Cup of Nations title came 37 years ago in the last championship decided by mini-league rather than knockout matches.
Coach Rachid Taoussi, who succeeded Belgian Eric Gerets last year after a 2-0 loss in Mozambique threatened to derail the qualifying campaign, says his team must become more clinical inside the box.
"We created space and moved the ball around well against Angola, but did not punish them. However, I must be patient as we have a young team with an average age of 24 and we are building.
"Let us remember that Angola are a good team with excellent strikers and I believe we can offer more in our games this week against Cape Verde and South Africa," said the coach.
That means improved performances from wide men Noureddine Amrabat and Ossama Assaidi and central striker Mounir El Hamdaoui, all of whom faded after bright starts against the Angolans.
It also means tightening a Mehdi Benatia-marshalled defence that nearly gave away a late goal with Manucho and former Switzerland under-21 striker Guilherme Afonso queueing unmarked to meet a cross that flashed just wide of the far post.