PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa - Cape Verde coach Lucio Antunes might get help from Jose Mourinho as his underdog team looks to spring another surprise — its biggest yet — and knock title contender Ghana out of the African Cup of Nations.
After explaining at the beginning of the tournament that he never talked football with good friend Mourinho, Antunes changed his position Friday and said he would get advice from the Real Madrid coach ahead of Saturday's quarterfinal against the Black Stars.
Highly favoured Ghana was already under considerable pressure to win at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and although Antunes may have been joking and engaging in Mourinho-like mind games, his allusion to being aided by one of the world's top managers gave the Ghanaians even more to worry about.
Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah was already concerned with Cape Verde's threat, calling it a team "no one can underrate" and conceding it had no pressure on it while his four-time champion carried the weight of expectation.
"With Cape Verde, they have never even qualified for the quarterfinals before," Appiah said. "For them to be there is a big achievement. Certain teams have no pressure on them, as compared to us. It's important that we show them total respect."
While the softly-spoken Appiah continued to back his young and talented team to slowly grow into their roles at the African Cup, the charismatic Antunes has aimed high from the moment the tournament debutant held South Africa 0-0 in front of over 80,000 home fans in the opening game.
"We were initially very confident. We are now more confident. And we are confident that we are going down to the final," Antunes said on Friday.
Antunes has apparently learned a lot from mentor Mourinho, including the art of coaching mind games.
He pretended to be on the phone with Mourinho at the end of the pre-match news conference having told reporters with a wide grin that the Real Madrid boss would be helping him with his tactics for the quarterfinal.
"Yes, it is true. Today we will be talking after I know what the composition of Ghana's team is," Antunes said, smiling. "So yes, we are talking and Jose Mourinho is giving me advice."
Antunes then held a cellphone to his ear and said "Hello, Jose," as he left the news conference laughing.
Before that, Cape Verde captain Fenando Neves said the team was enjoying the "nice atmosphere" around its quarterfinal and was a completely unified group.
Ghana's immediate buildup to the first knockout game at the Cup of Nations was undermined by a statement from the Ghana Football Association late Thursday that rejected what it called "a false, irresponsible, reckless and mischievous" report in its media back home that said Ghana tried to bribe a Niger player ahead of their group game, which Ghana won 3-0.
"There's no truth in it," Appiah said of the allegation. "Everyone who watched the game can see it doesn't make sense."
Ghana's coach would rather focus on the promise shown by his team in its flowing victory over Niger, when striker Asamoah Gyan led the Black Stars to their best performance at the tournament and underlined Appiah's claim that they were getting better and better.
"They are now getting used to the competition," Appiah said of his squad, which has 10 African Cup debutants. "They are developing game by game."
There was no doubt Cape Verde had also gotten used to the African Cup in its first appearance at a major tournament and Antunes' outspoken confidence and belief appeared to have now rubbed off on his players.
"We are here to carry on. We came here to stay," captain and defender Neves said. "Already we have eliminated a few teams considered better than us. For the ones that think we are not in equal categories than other teams, I think they are in for a surprise."
Despite the talk, Ghana was likely to be too strong for the Cape Verdeans. Appiah was also able to pick a full-strength team following the return to fitness of Espanyol winger Wakaso Mubarak and Schalke midfielder Anthony Annan.
"I have total confidence in all my players," Appiah said.
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