Soccer-Cape Verde get serious despite all the fun and laughter
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa Feb 1 (Reuters) - At the end of his news conference previewing Cape Verde's quarter-final with Ghana, coach Lucio Antunes picked up a reporter's phone placed in front of him recording his comments and loudly shouted into it: "Hi, Jose".
The joke was not lost on anyone with Antunes pretending to be calling his friend, the Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho.
Not for the first time in this African Nations Cup, Antunes had been asked whether Mourinho was indeed his friend and whether the "Special One" was taking time out from his day job to help him plot Ghana's downfall at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday.
With Mourinho-esque timing, he merely answered "yes" to the question and left it at that to roars of laughter before explaining in greater detail about how serious they were about winning Saturday's game and reaching the semi-finals.
"We are very serious. We are a serious team and we have grown in confidence since the tournament started. We are stronger," he said.
"We are a good team with ambitious players and there is no reason why we cannot beat Ghana, I think we can. I think we can get through to the semi-finals. When you are in the tournament we have to think you are going to win it, and why not?"
The laughing had begun from the time he sat down when the press officer announced: "We have here the coach of Cape Verde, Lucio Antunes. The coach says to tell you that his name is Lucio. He is not Lucia and he is not Lewis. Please now switch your phones to silent mode and let us begin."
Moments later the Portuguese translator's phone loudly rang to what sounded like The Doors hit "Light My Fire".
It was hard to believe that any of the 60 journalists or TV crews there did not know Antunes' correct name after the fires his side have lit in the group stage to qualify for the knockout stages on their debut appearance in the finals.
Cape Verde had hardly made much impact on international soccer since joining FIFA in 1986. But since they played their first World Cup qualifier in 2000, they have steadily risen up the FIFA rankings and are the fourth highest-ranked team left in the competition.
They were given little or no chance of making it through from Group A but after drawing their opening games with South Africa and Morocco, they came from behind to beat Angola 2-1 on Sunday.
Ghana beat them 1-0 in a friendly in Lisbon in November, but both Antunes and his skipper Nando said that game will have no bearing on what happens on Saturday.
"It will be totally different," said Nando, a stark contrast to his dapper coach given his wildly frizzed hair.
"We are different as a group from before the start of the tournament, we were confident then, but we are even more confident now. We are physically and mentally ready for this game."
More laughter followed when he asked if he would go on the field with the hairstyle and whether his hair would play any part in beating Ghana.
"It's a secret," he replied. "It's a secret."
Antunes added: "And I spoke to Mourinho as well, and that's a secret too."
Underneath the knockabout fun, Cape Verde have very serious intent on Saturday.
Ghana remain the favourites to beat them but, whether aided by Mourinho's tactical acumen or not, Cape Verde are unlikely to lose without a real fight - and there is no certainty they will lose at all. (Editing by Mark Meadows)
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