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African Cup: South Africa, Cape Verde reach new heights

Associated Press

1/23/2013 5:10:59 PM

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa -- South Africa lifted itself from the depths of despair to group leader at the African Cup of Nations as first-timer Cape Verde scaled stunning new heights in a 1-1 draw with former champion Morocco.

Although it couldn't hold on to the lead for a victory that would have shaken up the entire tournament, Cape Verde's second straight draw still resounded on Wednesday and left Morocco in a desperate scrap to qualify for the quarterfinals.

"Chelsea, Manchester, Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona. The players of Cape Verde must go there," coach Lucio Antunes said.

Bafana Bafana earlier dispatched Angola 2-0 for their pressure-relieving and uplifting win and were clear at the top of Group A by the end of the day in a dramatic turnaround after the host team's depressing start.

Luis Soares -- the striker who wears 'Platini' on the back of his shirt -- chipped in with similar panache to the celebrated Frenchman to give the Cape Verdeans a jaw-dropping lead over Morocco. It put them just over 45 minutes from the biggest upset of this African Cup and the most significant result in their short international football history.

Youssef El Arabi equalized to add a sense of reality to the fairytale start, but Cape Verde was still in contention for the quarterfinals on its major tournament debut -- and growing rapidly in confidence.

"We believe that we have a good team. If you compare us with Morocco, we are on the same level," Cape Verde captain Fernando Neves said.

The team from the tiny island nation was also becoming more influential to the other teams' fates in Group A.

Public enemy No. 1 in South Africa after holding the host on opening night, Cape Verde did the home team a major good turn with the Morocco draw and left the yellow-clad, vuvuzela-blowing Bafana Bafana followers even happier at the very end of the fifth day of games.

Group B's outcome will be much clearer on Thursday when the group's favoured teams, Ghana and Mali, meet in Port Elizabeth and for the third time in the last two African Cups.

Meanwhile, title favourite Ivory Coast's players and coach conceded in their base in Rustenburg that they needed to improve to end their long wait for a title and avoid an upset against either Tunisia or Algeria in their remaining matches.

Coach Sabri Lamouchi said the Ivorians' narrow 2-1 win over Togo was "far from what we can do."

South Africa showed major progress on its second outing and first at Moses Mabhida Stadium in the humid east coast city of Durban, allowing its once-weary fans a huge sigh of relief with the team's first goals in four games.

Defender Siyabonga Sangweni swept in a 30th-minute volley from a tight angle and Lehlohonolo Majoro jinked his way past defenders for a second midway through the second half as coach Gordon Igesund made five changes, went for broke, and saw them pay off.

"I told them, if they don't want to believe in themselves, I believe in what they're doing," Igesund said. "Today I took a big risk. I played with almost five strikers."

Initially nerve-wracked and fearing another depressing performance, home fans launched themselves into Mexican waves at the seaside venue at the end.

Soares' goal, as he dinked the ball over goalkeeper Nadir Lamyaghri, led to nearly the entire Cape Verde bench emptying to mob the forward near the corner flag with joyous hugs and high fives.

It was greeted with nearly as much delight by the revived South Africans.