Best remembered for an unremarkable spell at Manchester United at the start of his career, Bebe is using the Africa Cup of Nations to showcase his pedigree as an expert free-kick taker and a talisman for a Cape Verde side who are the surprise package of the tournament so far.

On Friday, his incredible dead-ball strike from 40 metres set the Atlantic Ocean island nation on the way to a 3-0 win over Mozambique in Abidjan, their second victory in as many games securing a place in the last 16 as Group B winners.

For Bebe the goal did not simply come about by chance. Indeed he had hit the bar from a similar distance minutes earlier.

"The truth is that the free-kicks I've been taking have been coming off well for me," he tells AFP just before training with his Cape Verde teammates on Saturday.

"The two I had in the game, I was really focused. They were in areas where I feel really comfortable.

"They were very far out but I am always daring enough to shoot from there. I was lucky enough that the second one went in and I am very happy it did."

Cape Verde, an archipelago 600 kilometres off the coast of West Africa and home to around 600,000 people, have made remarkable footballing strides in recent years.

They appeared at their first Cup of Nations in 2013 and got to the quarter-finals, before being eliminated in the group stage in 2015 despite drawing all three matches.

Two years ago they made the last 16, and now the aim in their fourth appearance at the tournament is to at least win a knockout game for the first time.

"We need to keep our feet firmly on the ground because we know that with all the teams that are here it is very difficult. But nothing is impossible," the 33-year-old says when asked if they could even envisage winning the trophy.

Cape Verde beat four-time champions Ghana in their first game, and next up it is record seven-time champions Egypt.  

Earning respect

"Getting to the next round was one of our first objectives and we have done that," Bebe says.

"It is a source of happiness for us, for the country and for the people of Cape Verde.

"We are really happy because I think we are playing really good football. We are trying to earn the respect that we deserve."

This is all new for Bebe, whose real name is Tiago Manuel Dias Correia. Capped by Portugal at Under-21 level, he struggled at Old Trafford, making just seven appearances under Alex Ferguson in 2010/11.

After several loans, he was sold to Benfica in 2014, before later settling in Spain at Rayo Vallecano.

"Honestly in Spain I feel great. I have found a place there where I feel good and things are going well," he says.

"I feel at home there in a league that I love. The football is really good. I am really happy."

Born in Portugal to parents from Cape Verde, Bebe made his debut for the Blue Sharks in 2022 and is now appearing at his first AFCON.

The coach, Pedro 'Bubista' Brito, has been impressed by the player's contribution to the national team.

"We are very happy with him. He is really committed, and I think he should have scored more goals because he does a lot of practice on dead balls," he says.

"He has really helped the team improve. It is exceptional to have a player of his ability."

Bebe himself feels he should probably have been part of the country's three previous AFCON campaigns, but he fell over various administrative hurdles.

"There were a lot of problems with paperwork and things like that but it's never too late to be where I am now, in the colours of Cape Verde representing my country," he says.

"I hope to continue doing so for a long time.

"At the moment the way things are going if we carry on like this we will achieve something great."