For the Rotterdam-based Cape Verde, a historic semi-final place in the African Cup beckons on Saturday evening in the match against South Africa. Although, according to Garry Rodrigues, the stunt crew dreams of more. “We are capable of great things.”
De blessuretijd van Ghana-Kaapverdië is ongeveer een minuut bezig als invaller Rodrigues de bal bij een 1-1-stand plots voor zijn voeten krijgt. Na een defensieve blunder in de Ghanese defensie kan de geboren Rotterdammer de bal totaal ongehinderd in een leeg doel schieten.
Rodrigues trekt zijn shirt uit, sprint richting de tribune en valt zijn uitzinnige vader in de armen. “Dat was het speciaalste moment uit mijn loopbaan. Maar ik hoop dat dat volgende week zondag anders is”, zegt Rodrigues tegen NU.nl, doelend op winst in de finale.
Vrijwel niemand bij Kaapverdië, de nummer 73 van de wereldranglijst, durfde vooraf aan de eindzege op de Afrika Cup te denken. Pas in 2013 plaatste het land ten westen van het Afrikaanse vasteland zich voor het eerst voor het landentoernooi. Nooit kwam de eilandstaat verder dan de kwartfinales.
Maar deze editie overleefden de ‘Tubarões Azuis’ (Blauwe Haaien) overtuigend de groepsfase, met zeven punten uit duels met Ghana, Mauritanië en het Egypte van Mohamed Salah. Daarna won Kaapverdië in de achtste finales van Mozambique met 1-0. Daardoor wacht in de kwartfinales een clash met Zuid-Afrika.
“Dit hadden we niet zien aankomen”, vertelt Rodrigues vanuit het spelershotel in Yamoussoukro. “We zaten in een sterke groep. Die wilden we doorkomen. Maar nu dat is gelukt, is de spirit en mentaliteit geweldig. We hebben het gevoel iedereen aan te kunnen.”
Cape Verdean community in Rotterdam
That feeling also prevails in Rotterdam-West. In that part of the port city lives a Cape Verdean community of about twenty thousand ‘Cabos’, who emigrated to Rotterdam in the last century due to labor migration. Rodrigues’ parents came to the Netherlands as teenagers.
The Cape Verdean community founded the amateur club FC Maense in 1984, where many people gathered on Monday to watch the match against Mozambique. There were all kinds of videos of people cheering on social media because of Ryan Mendes’ late goal.
“I have seen so many videos and photos,” says Rodrigues, who lived in Rotterdam West until he was eleven and then moved to Rotterdam East. “There were several friends and relatives of mine in that canteen. When you see them so proud of your country, it is wonderful to see.”
“In any case, the Cape Verdean community in Rotterdam is one big family. Almost everyone knows each other or has a bond with each other. Football tournaments are also organized in the summer. You feel the connection with each other.”
Rotterdam foursome has a special bond
That connection also exists in the Cape Verdean team, even though the team is a mix of players with all kinds of different backgrounds. Cape Verdean Creole is spoken in the dressing room, but the players’ roots are spread all over the world.
Some grew up in France, Portugal or Switzerland, others in Cape Verde. And four of them have their roots in Rotterdam: Rodrigues, Laros Duarte (FC Groningen), his brother Deroy (Fortuna Sittard) and Jamiro Monteiro (former player of SC Cambuur and Heracles Almelo).
The foursome has a close bond, says Rodrigues. “It is very special to experience this together. Also because we know what this means for the Cape Verdean community in Rotterdam and also in the country itself. We feel the same.”
“With our achievements, we are an example for children who want to play football. And perhaps several players with Cape Verdean roots who had doubts now want to play for the national team. There is a greater meaning behind it. That realization is 100 percent.”
Rodrigues worked at PostNL
For Rodrigues it is the most special of all ‘Rotterdammers’. Unlike Monteiro and the Duarte brothers, he did not seem to succeed in professional football. Rodrigues was once considered a great talent, but after stints in the youth ranks of Sparta Rotterdam and Feyenoord, he did not get a contract with the latter club.
Rodrigues dropped to the amateurs of FC Boshuizen and earned about 300 euros a week as a PostNL delivery person. “It could easily have gone wrong for me. I never thought I would achieve this, even though I never gave up.”
Ultimately, Rodrigues succeeded. He even played his way through clubs such as ADO Den Haag, Levski Sofia and Elche to lucrative contracts with Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and in the Middle East. He is now active for Turkish side Ankaragücü and has already played 51 international matches.
“I never think about how special it is, but I also know that it is a bizarre story. It also happened thanks to my family and friends. They ensure that I always keep the faith.”
Broederliefde rents Rotterdam club
That belief may lead to a historic African Cup win in just over a week, although the ‘Cabo’s’ must first beat South Africa. That country surprisingly eliminated Morocco of Hakim Ziyech and Sofyan Amrabat in the eighth finals.
“South Africa is a good opponent, otherwise you won’t eliminate Morocco. But it is a team we can have. I don’t think we have to be afraid of anyone anyway.” Certainly not because countries such as Egypt, Morocco and defending champion Senegal have already been eliminated.
The support is not the issue for Cape Verde on Saturday evening. Rap group Brotherly lovewhose singers have Cape Verdean roots, have arranged, according to Rodrigues, for the match to be watched on a large screen in the Rotterdam entertainment venue Villa Thalia.
Rodrigues, meanwhile, dreams of a historic Africa Cup win. “If I succeed, my career will be complete. And that is really possible now. We are capable of great things.”
The quarter-final between Cape Verde and South Africa starts on Saturday at 9 p.m.