Cape Verde becomes smallest-ever nation to win a game at FIBA World Cup

Venezuela forward Miguel Ruiz (14) defends Cape Verde center Edy Tavares (22) in the second half of the Basketball World Cup group F match in Okinawa, southern Japan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)

Unless you’re a baller at that Sporcle Countries of the World quiz, you may never have heard of Cape Verde.

At the very least, you may not know much about the island archipelago that sits about 600 miles off the coast of west Africa. You probably don’t know that it was colonized by Portugal in 1462, or that it became an independent nation in 1975.

With a population of just over 500,000, Cape Verde is the smallest nation ever to qualify for the FIBA World Cup. And after Monday’s come-from-behind win over Venezuela, they’re now the smallest nation ever to win a game in the event, too.

Looking at the team on the court, you certainly wouldn’t guess that this is one of the smallest countries in the world.

Cape Verde has size and length– much more so than Venezuela, which it defeated 81-75, in group play on Monday.

The Blue Sharks are led by former NBA draft pick and Real Madrid star Walter ‘Edy’ Tavares, a 7-3 giant who serves as a rebounding and rim-protecting force. 6-8 forward Beto Gomes, who scored a team-high 22 points in the win, was also born in Cape Verde, as was 6-6 forward Ivan Almeida, who had 18.

All three are over the age of 30, with the 31-year-old Tavares, who is Real Madrid’s all-time leader in blocks, leading the way for this experienced squad, which is also (how can we put it?) verde on the world stage.

It’s all fairly remarkable for a nation four times smaller than Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas, home to 2 million people.

Cape Verde still has work to do if it wants to make it out of Group F in the World Cup, but this team has already made history, and a huge impression on fans back home. Their win also continued a streak of African nations winning at the tournament, with South Sudan, Angola and Ivory Coast also picking up victories.

The Blue Sharks next face Luka Doncic and medal-contending Slovenia, and they’ll have to win, or hope that Georgia loses to Venezuela, and they come out on top on points differential. Either way, it’s already been an incredible ride.

“I’m still speechless,” Cape Verde’s Will Tavares, no relation to Walter, told the Associated Press. “I feel like I’m in a dream right now, but the win was so big for us and our country and our families. We made a statement. Even though we’re the smallest country, we have so much heart.”

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