The Afcon dream is over for Cape Verde

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Oh, to be a little brother. That's what Cape Verde have felt like at the African Nations' Cup. Their dream run at this year's tournament ended by a so-called bigger brother that they actually had the better of.

Ghana will play in the competition's semi-finals but Cape Verde will return to their islands proud.

And they deserve to. The debutants were handed what seemed a tough ask when they were pitted against the host nation for the event opener in a group which also included Morocco - a side whose reputation was hoped would finally yield something on the pitch - and Angola. Cape Verde came out of the pool looking the best of the four sides.

- Match report: Ghana seal semi-final spot

They were well organised, with a slight European flair (given that most of their players ply their trade in Portugal that's not surprising) and were filled with characters. From the coach, Lucio Antunes, to the star striker Ryan Mendes, Cape Verde had both promise and potential. Often Cinderella teams have one or the other and that is just not enough.

Word on the street was that Cape Verde had what it took to beat Ghana in their knockout clash. Word on the pitch seemed the same.

The Black Stars started the ANC sluggishly with a draw against Congo DR and even though Asamoah Gyan returned to form in their final group game, they did not look like a challenge that was too big for Cape Verde to take on.

The match proved exactly that. The first shot coming from the minnows in the seventh minute, Babanco put the ball over. The first real chance fell to Cape Verde too. In the 13th minute, Heldon could have put them ahead but he fired metres over the crossbar.

Eight minutes later, he had an even better opportunity - running across goal from the left-hand side and missing by a whisker. On the half-hour, Julio Taveres crossed for Marco Soares but before he could head the ball home, Fatau Dauda intercepted for the Black Stars.

Ghana also had their opportunities. Early on, from a set piece but Kwadwo Asamoah misdirected and later from a corner that was defended hurriedly. They had most of the first half possession - 68% compared to Cape Verde's 32% but they did not have most of the intent. Between them, the two sides did not have a single shot on target in that period.

For the pundits, Cape Verde deserved praise for that. Antunes may disagree. He has shown that it is not in his character to laud mediocrity and although Cape Verde were advancing on Ghana, they too, did not do anything tangible in the first half.

Ghana's breakthrough came from the spot, when Carlitos, the cousin of Nani was deemed to have fouled Asamoah Gyan in the box. It is likely to be discussed as a controversial penalty but Ghana did not add to the drama. Mubarak Wakaso had only come on a few seconds before and was called on to do the business.

For a second time in the tournament, he slotted the ball home coolly. He also managed not to earn himself a yellow card (as he did the first time he took a spotkick) by keeping his shirt on and any hidden messages to himself.

A goal down, Cape Verde showed no fear as they pushed forward time and again, creating chance after chance. Heldon, then Platini, then Babanco, twice. They threw everything at Ghana and came closest to equalising in the dying second when a free-kick almost beat goalkeeper Fatau Dauda in his top left-hand corner.

As they tired, Ghana pounced and when a desperate Cape Verde sent their goalkeeper up for a corner in added time, Wakaso stuck for the second time and ended the dream.

Cape Verde are expected to be back and to be better. Ghana, as expected, are into the final four. Judging by the performance of the other heavyweights so far, maybe there lethargy will just be met with the same, but that is unlikely. Ghana will be required to improve, to show more aggression and to find some creativity. They didn't have much of it in the group stage and they had even less against Cape Verde.

The islanders have bowed out and the and the Black Stars will continue. Many of us would have liked to see the reverse.

Mali eliminate South Africa

There was more heartbreak inflicted by a surprise team when Bafana Bafana were knocked out in a penalty shootout against Mali. The hosts led after 31 minutes when Tokelo Rantie finally came good after looking the part all tournament. But the fear that one man could end South Africa's hopes remained and that man delivered.

Seydou Keita's 58th minute header put Mali on level terms and they remained there to take the match to a shootout. Goalscoring has always been South Africa's problem and it came back to haunt them again. Two penalties were saved and one went wide as only Siphiwe Tshabalala scored. Mali managed three goals to advance and give some joy to their war torn home land.

ESPN Conversations