By Matt Carter
Almost two years to the exact date of the victory over Angola sealed Cape Verde a seminal quarter-final appearance on AFCON debut, the Blue Sharks have the opportunity to repeat that momentous feat when they tussle with Zambia on Tuesday evening.
The current scenario Cape Verde face is uncannily symmetrical to the qualification equation they navigated back in 2013. As in South Africa, the Islanders enter their concluding group date off the back of two draws, whilst akin to the Angola team Cape Verde defeated, Zambia find themselves in a position of win or bust and even that might not be enough for Chipolopolo.
That Zambia have little option but to force this issue is liable to play into the hands of a Cape Verde side whose preference is to counter. To date, the Blue Sharks have produced ample neat football in Equatorial Guinea, however converting that into an end product has thus far proven elusive – Heldon’s penalty against Tunisia being their only goal to date.
Zambia being plunged into a do or die situation should allow Cape Verde a greater degree of space to exploit. However, Rui Aguas might be ill-advised to merely bank on Zambian adventure being the resolution to his side’s lack of attacking bite. The Portuguese has come under scrutiny for his persistent utilising of a powerful target man, rather than a more mobile option that would better compliment Cape Verde’s overall attacking armoury – it remains to be whether Aguas will buckle under such criticism.
Zambia’s precarious situation might have been altogether different had Chipolopolo shown a superior element of composure in their defeat to Tunisia, with the Carthage Eagles coming from behind to punish the profligate Chipolopolo. That said, even accounting for their wastefulness Zambia – driven by inspirational Rainford Kalaba – undoubtedly represented a vast improvement on the unimaginative side who battled to a point against DR Congo in game one.
In many ways Cape Verde and DR Congo’s stalemate has breathed new life into Zambia’s quarter-final hopes, given that a victor of any form in that fixture would almost certainly have signified the end for Honour Janza’s side.
Although tactically Zambia being in the last chance saloon is likely to assist Cape Verde, there is a possibility Chipolopolo will benefit psychologically from their qualification aspirations now appearing somewhat implausible. Although to what extent that evaporation of pressure will profit Zambia is likely to hinge on whether Emmanuel Mayuka is fit to start, given that his departure through injury coincided with the drying up of opportunities against Tunisia.
The two sides represents familiar foes with the pair having been drawn together in qualification. That each took a home victory off the other would indicate a relatively level playing field. However, it should be noted that Cape Verde’s defeat in Ndola came after the Blue Sharks had already booked their tournament ticket.
The manner in which the group has unfolded would suggest the stars are again aligning for another remarkable chapter in Cape Verde’s astounding rise from minnows to regulars at the top table of African football. Nonetheless, tasked with a Zambia side who are likely to be free of fear, Aguas’ largely goal-shy team cannot simply count on the magic of fairy tales if their quarter-final dreams are to become reality.