Late penalty takes Cape Verde into Cup of Nations quarter-finals

Mauritania’s defender #20 Ibrahima Keita (L) fights for the ball with Cape Verde’s forward #21 Bebe during the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2024 round of 16 football match between Cape Verde and Mauritania at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in Abidjan on January 29, 2024. AFP

Cape Verde won an Africa Cup of Nations knockout tie for the first time in their history on Monday as a late Ryan Mendes penalty gave them a 1-0 victory over Mauritania in the last 16.

The match at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium in Abidjan was drifting towards extra time when Cape Verde won a spot-kick and captain Mendes converted with just two minutes of the 90 remaining to break Mauritania’s resistance.

The Blue Sharks then held on through 10 added minutes to advance to a quarter-final on Saturday in Yamoussoukro against either Morocco or South Africa, who meet in the last 16 on Tuesday.

The tiny Atlantic Ocean island nation had got out of their group in two of their three previous appearances at the AFCON, but had never before won a knockout tie.

“We are proud of everything we have done up to now. We always tried to win the game and we thoroughly deserved the victory,” said Cape Verde coach Pedro ‘Bubista’ Brito, who believes his side can go further still in the tournament.

“We have our objective, which from day one has been to get to the semi-finals.

“We are one step away from that now and we are going to keep going, while obviously staying humble and respecting our opponents, but we believe. That is our focus and we are going to try and get there.”

Mauritania had been hoping to extend their fine run in Ivory Coast, after they won a Cup of Nations match for the first time in nine attempts in their last group game, beating Algeria to eliminate one of the continent’s powerhouses.

But a side coached by Amir Abdou, who took tiny Comoros to the last 16 in Cameroon two years ago, will go no further after failing to find a way past Cape Verde goalkeeper Vozinha.

“Unfortunately we have lost to a ridiculous goal, which showed our naivety,” said Abdou.

“But we will nevertheless take positives from this, from our run, and we will be back in a year’s time.”

The Chinguetti Lions will look back with regret at one fine chance just before the hour mark, when Souleymane Anne was played into a great position inside the box only to put his shot over.

Cape Verde looked the more likely team as the minutes ticked down, and Mendes came very close to scoring with a header from a corner that was well saved by Mauritania goalkeeper Babacar Niasse.

They were then awarded a penalty when substitute Gilson Tavares Benchimol was brought down in the box by Niasse after intercepting a poor header back from Mauritania defender Yassin El Welly.

The Egyptian referee pointed to the spot, and Mendes, of Turkish side Fatih Karagumruk, smashed home the penalty, his second goal of the tournament making history for his country.

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