PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) — Among the many things Cape Verde's team learned at its first major football tournament, one stood out above all for coach Lucio Antunes: His players don't fear anyone now.
A charismatic and confident character and friend of Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, Antunes started his African Cup of Nations by saying that his tournament debutants were far better than anyone gave them credit for.
He ended it by rating his Cape Verde among the top three teams at the tournament and as good as title contenders Ghana and Ivory Coast.
And everyone in South Africa was also going to miss them, he added, after a 2-0 loss to Ghana in the quarterfinals finally brought an uplifting debut campaign to an end.
"We watched a beautiful game of football. Unfortunately the best team is going home," Antunes said after Cape Verde's elimination at the hands of the Black Stars at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. "So the tournament is going to lose a bit of shine.
"The positive I'm taking from this tournament is that Cape Verde is not worse than any of the other teams. In fact, Cape Verde is as good as any of the big teams in this tournament."
Antunes shamelessly played up his players' ability during their entertaining two-week stay at the African Cup, telling reporters his men from the small island nation — many of whom play in lower leagues in Portugal and France — were good enough for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United.