Cape Verde revel in underdog role for opener

"It's a thrill for our players to get a chance to play in such a big stadium and in front of so many people," the defender said before his side face hosts South Africa at Johannesburg's Soccer City in front of a sellout crowd of 87,000.

"We are not favoured because we have a young and inexperienced side," Nando added as the smallest ever national to compete at the African championship wound up their preparations. "But it's a challenge for us."

The small island archipelago has a population of just over 500,000 and are surprise qualifiers for the finals with a team of journeymen footballers from lower-profile clubs in Europe.

"We have Cape Verdians from many other countries but they have a common will and purpose. There is a lot of quality and a lot of competition for places in the team."

Coach Lucio Antunes said Nations Cup qualification had come after years of hard work by federation officials and players.

"This has been an evolutionary process," he said. "We've also found players with more respect for the country and what it takes to achieve on the field."

Cape Verde qualified by upsetting four-time winners Cameroon in the final qualifying round in October.

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