Some 570 km off the coast of Senegal, lies Africa’s most highly educated nation. Forecast over 15 years ago to be the next Canary Islands, the Cape Verde archipelago of ten islands has never aspired to those touristy heights, and that may not be a bad thing.
Nonetheless, tourists flock to the islands to enjoy the year-round sunshine, miles of unspoilt beaches and craggy volcanic coastline. For those who enjoy hiking, once over those cliffs on islands like Santo Antao you descend to lush green valleys of sugarcane and local flora.
The island of Sao Vicente houses the capital of all the islands, Mindelo, home to the local music clubs with bars full of residents and tourists. The islands of Maio, Boa Vista and Sal enjoy dunes down to the sea and beautiful unspoilt beaches. Sal, of all the islands, is probably the most commercialised, attracting large numbers of windsurfers and package holidaymakers.
Amid the throb of the Cape’s famous music, and the renowned hospitality of the locals towards all visitors, there is an undercurrent of expectancy, a swelling of the chest of all Cape Verdeans – football’s coming home. Throughout the archipelago the favourite teams are Sporting and Benfica, which makes a pleasant change from Manchester United or Barcelona.
Start talking football to one of the locals over a beer, and you may well stagger out of the bar a few hours later. Cape Verde has recently been voted Africa’s top side in FIFA’s world rankings, not bad for a nation of just 500,000 people. So where does this island nation get its footballing prowess?
Like many African nations before them, Cape Verde decided if it wanted some of the pickings from the football money tree it needed to recruit European players. With its ancestral family ties to Portugal giving many professional players in Europe the right to play for the national team, the hunt was on. Although a quarter of the national squad are European, 14 of the 19 players used in a recent match against Portugal, were born on the islands.
All of Cape Verde’s national squad play their football away from the islands, mostly in Europe, with the majority playing for Portuguese clubs. The prolific striker Heldon plies his trade for Sporting Lisbon, while the midfielder Babanco plays for Estoril.
It was late March 2015 when Cape Verde’s national football team took to the field and gave Portugal a 2-0 beating in an international friendly. Fortes, scorer of their second goal plays for French side Reims. Others players make their living in Romania, Hungary, Holland, Bulgaria, Mexico, Cyprus and Angola.
So is it all a little too good to be true? On the face of it no, in 2013 they were the smallest nation to have ever qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations, and went on to reach the quarter finals. Although eliminated in the group stages of the 2015 Cup they never lost a match, and drew against former winners Zambia.
Rated 38th in FIFA’s world rankings they sit one place above Scotland. Having qualified for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, and with new coach Felisberto ‘Beto’ Cardoso, Cape Verde seem more than prepared to do battle with the big names of African football.
So, when your planning what to wear during this year’s holiday to the Islands, throw in a couple of Benfica shirts, or better still, a couple of Cape Verde National football shirts – guaranteed to ensure a good night out with the locals.
Book your Cape Verde airport transfer with Holiday Taxis – the smarter way to arrive.
Image Courtesy to CarolineG2011 Under Creative Common License
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