RYAN Mendes, who is in his first season with former French champions Lille, believes Cape Verde can make more of an impact than most observers believe is possible at the Africa Cup of Nations.
The competition debutantes are set for a red-hot baptism of fire, taking to the Soccer City Stadium on January 19 against hosts South Africa in the opening game of the competition.
The soft-spoken striker is hoping to make his presence felt through his prowess in front of the goalposts against the deafening din of tens of thousands of partisan-controlled vuvuzela plastic horns.
He was on the mark twice against Madagascar to set Cape Verde up for their stunning defeat of Cameroon to seal their place at the high table of African football. And having made it to the finals, Mendes and his side marshalled by veteran defender and captain Nando are intending on doing more than making up the numbers.
"I watched the draw live, we're in a complicated group with hosts South Africa, Morocco and Angola," said the striker, who turned 23 this week. "It's our first time going to the Nations Cup, so there's no pressure on us," added the forward who signed with Lille from Le Havre last August.
"We're already happy to get the chance to be here, we're also lucky to be playing the opening game of this Nations Cup - for us that's the ultimate. Aside from that, it's true we want to achieve something because we don't want to end up being ridiculed, so we want to produce the best possible Africa Cup of Nations."
Cape Verde will be anxious not to emulate Niger, who froze in the spotlight of their first Nations Cup run last year in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. "There are good sides facing us, whether it's Angola, South Africa or Morocco. We, Cape Verde, are not favourites, but we hope to cause them problems just like we did against Cameroon," Mendes reflected.
The son of a painter, he made his international debut as a second-half substitute in a friendly against Senegal in August 2010, becoming a regular in his country's ultimately futile bid to qualify for the 2012 Nations Cup, by opening his scoring account against Zimbabwe.
His strength as a striker is his speed - just ask former European champions Marseille, whose defence was caught napping when Mendes opened the scoring for Le Havre in a French Cup tie last term. "This speed, it's my strong point, another is my capacity to change gear in front of defenders," he acknowledged.