Cape Verde international Roberto Lopes. Evan Treacy/INPHO

Roberto Lopes makes Champions League final pit-stop before Cape Verde duty

Shamrock Rovers defender turns attention to AFCON qualifiers with double header against Burkina Faso and Togo in Marrakesh.

ROBERTO LOPES MADE a quick pit-stop at the Champions League final in Paris on Saturday en route to linking up with the Cape Verde squad ahead of their upcoming African Cup of Nations qualifying double header.

The morning after the Shamrock Rovers centre back helped ensure the Hoops kept a clean sheet in the 2-0 win over Shelbourne, he flew to France with a pal to watch what turned out to be a 1-0 win for Real Madrid over Liverpool.

“I’m neutral. My friend is a die-hard Liverpool fan. I will probably be shouting for Madrid just to wind him up,” he said on Friday night, prior to travelling.

Despite the chaotic and shameful scenes outside the Stade de France, Lopes made it in without any problems and while some of his teammates have a week off to savour their eight-point lead at the top of the Premier Division, this was not the start of a holiday.

From Paris it was on to Marrakesh, where Cape Verde will begin their attempts to make it back-to-back qualifications for the AFCON having reached the last-16 in the competition earlier this year.

Senegal ended their dream run, beating them 2-0 in a game which saw them finish with nine men, and their experience was marred further by several players falling ill on the eve of that crucial clash, with Lopes himself needing to be withdrawn at half-time after getting sick in the tunnel.

On Friday they face Burkina Faso, semi-finalists in the 2022 edition, while three days later Togo are their opponents.

“It’s a big qualification campaign coming again with the AFCON coming again next year really fast in June. After the way it ended in January, we have the taste for more and hopefully go further than we did,” Lopes said.

We just felt things went against us with the food poisoning and two sendings off. We want to go back and give a better account of ourselves really.”

It also helps that the FAI’s decision to move the mid-season break to coincide with the international window means he won’t be absent for any domestic action, even with their comfortable advantage at the summit.

“The fact you’re not missing league games is very important. You do feel like you’re watching from different countries and you want to help but you are powerless.

“It’s been given a great opportunity to really commit to both, to go away with the international games and give 100 per cent and then come back here and be ready to rock.

“In a way it does sort of refresh you because it’s not the norm and you are away and it’s a really good standard and there is pressure on you. They are nice countries too and the sun always works well on the body.

“It resets you for coming back here to a league you are trying to win. It refocuses you. It’s really good.”

Once he returns, and Rovers turn attention to the quest for a three-in-a-row of league titles, they will find Dundalk as their nearest challengers following Derry City’s torrid run of form – just one win in the last seven.

“We have to focus on ourselves and hope teams around us drop points. But it has worked out well for us. We have to keep moving on and try get three more points each week and see where we are come the end of the season,” Lopes continued.

We were looking for a reaction [against Shelbourne] as we knew it was poor against Drogheda and Shels were flying. But we couldn’t ask for a better start.

“We started onto the front foot and Richie got on the end of a great move and from there we kept the tempo up and moved them around really well and the second goal was brilliant from our point of view.”

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