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Posts Tagged ‘“cape verde” “roberto lopes” pico “pico lopes” “african nations cup” “shamrock rovers” “league of ireland” “FAI cup final”’

We want to retain the cup that we worked so hard to win – Roberto Lopes

December 4, 2020 Leave a comment

Interview from Hoops Scene No. 11 (2020) – Shamrock Rovers v Sligo Rovers, FAI Cup semi-final, Sunday 29 November 2020

Everything about this year has been quite different including the fact that with a shortened SSE Airtricity League season due to COVID-19 the league finished up before the quarter-final stage of the extra.ie FAI Cup.  With Shamrock Rovers 2-0 down at half time away to Finn Harps in their quarter-final last week, those looking in on WATCHLOI might have felt that the Hoops had only another 45 minutes of football to go in 2020. On a miserably cold and wet night on a sticky pitch in Ballybofey, it wasn’t looking too good for Rovers. 

However the Hoops weren’t happy with letting their unbeaten run in the league and cup that goes back to August 2019 come to end. Awarded a remarkable three penalties in five minutes – with Aaron McEneff missing the first and scoring the next two – coupled with Graham Burke’s winner saw the Hoops through to tonight’s semi-final.

 “We went a goal down after 15 minutes and you are thinking this is going to be hard work,” said Roberto Lopes when he spoke with Hoops Scene this week. “Then for them to get a second one so quickly, your thoughts are we have a mountain to climb on that pitch, in the form they are in and how hard they work for one another but there was no panic. 

“The important thing was to be calm and trust what we do. We just needed to increase the energy and the tempo. We got that reaction in the second half – we got more in their face and we turned the screw and the pressure told in the end. We got our reward.

“We know that if we lose a game now, it is the season finished. It became real that Friday night in Harps – you live to fight another day or the season either ends. For me, I can’t imagine finishing the season and there are other teams still playing games. You want to be there at the end.” 

Lopes recalled that his captain Ronan Finn told his teammates that were well prepared to take on Harps in such difficult weather conditions. “Finner said it before the game that we had the best preparation of this quarter-final which was playing them two weeks before. The conditions that night were maybe worse then as there was a threat of the game being called off.

“We had to change slightly the way we played, but the principals were still there in how we attack, create chances and be patient and the opportunities will come. Having that experience of playing up there a couple of weeks ago and knowing what it was going to be like really prepared us for the game.”

The Hoops became the first League of Ireland club to go through a league campaign without a defeat since the 1920s and Rovers are focussed on retaining the FAI Cup which would also mean the club going through the full domestic season without a defeat. 

“The drive for this team is to remain unbeaten and we need to win this cup or else we will be beaten. We want to retain the cup that we worked so hard to win. The fans waited so long for Rovers to win the cup and for most of the players like myself it was the first time to win it. There is a massive motivation to win the cup and cap a great year off with a double.”

The statistics are quite remarkable for Rovers this year. In the 18 game league campaign the Hoops conceded just seven goals – the fewest ever in League of Ireland history. They kept 13 clean sheets and in the final 11 league games of the season, they conceded only one goal. 

“Defenders earn their crust on clean sheets and how well you defend. It isn’t just about getting your body in front of the ball, giving no chances up but when you have the ball can you keep it long enough so your opponents don’t get it. Can you be brave and play out from the back and through midfield without giving the opponent an opportunity to attack. That is a big part of defending – when you have the ball.

“We have such a fantastic goalkeeper in Alan (Mannus) – he gives us that confidence. 

Joey (O’Brien) is top class. We know what Lee (Grace) is capable of. In his first season at the club, there is nothing that fazes Liam Scales – he has fitted right in and been brilliant. You go through the team and we defend from the front. It is so important what Aaron Greene does for the team. The ability to win the ball high up and in midfield like we’ve done this year, it really does take the pressure off us defenders. Keeping that mentality throughout the team we will concede fewer goals.”

Lopes has played a crucial part in those clean sheets but his late goals have been invaluable too – all scored from set pieces. With Rovers trailing 2-1 to Dundalk in February, Lopes popped up with the equaliser on 71 minutes before Jack Byrne got the winner in front of over 7,500 fans in Tallaght – the last time supporters have watched a game in the stadium. Lopes got the winner nine minutes from time in the Brandywell as Rovers came from 1-0 down to win in August. In the Europa League later that month, it was the defenders’ flicked goal on 78 minutes that forced the game to extra-time before Rovers won the most remarkable penalty shootout (with Lopes scoring his side’s seventh spotkick).

“It is very important to chip in with goals throughout the team. When you have the quality of delivery with Jack Byrne, Aaron McEneff or Sean Kavanagh at set pieces you need to be scoring off them. We have great opportunities from set pieces and we work really hard on them. Goals win games and if we can chip in with a few goals between us that can make a difference. It is a team effort.”

Lopes was a half-time substitute in the 3-2 win over Finn Harps having just returned from being part of the Cape Verde squad in home and away Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Rwanda – both of which finished scoreless.

“It was a fantastic trip,” said Lopes. “It was professionally done. We were COVID tested four times in eight days when I was there plus the test before I left Ireland. They were really on top of it. You had a room to yourself and it was mask and hand sanitiser like here. 

“We were disappointed that we didn’t get three points in both games. There are some great quality players in the squad who are playing across the world. We are trying to qualify for the Cup of Nations – we will probably have to beat Mozambique and get something off Cameroon in the games next March. I’d love to be a part of the team who can qualify.”

It was a long journey home for Lopes with a flight from Rwanda to Uganda then a nine hour flight to Amsterdam where he had a further six hour layover before landing in Dublin the day before the game against Harps.

It has also been a journey for Lopes to win his first League of Ireland title. He was one of Stephen Bradley’s first signing for the Hoops moving across the Liffey from Bohemians. He is a player that Rovers fans mark out as one who has improved the most since his arrival in Tallaght. Playing in one of the club’s strongest ever teams, the 28-year-old defender is one of those in contention to win the club’s player of the year award.

It has also been a journey for Lopes to win his first League of Ireland title. He was one of Stephen Bradley’s first signing for the Hoops moving across the Liffey from Bohemians. He is a player that Rovers fans mark out as one who has improved the most since his arrival in Tallaght. Playing in one of the club’s strongest ever teams, the 28-year-old defender is one of those in contention to win the club’s player of the year award.

“One of the reasons I signed for Shamrock Rovers was to improve as a player. I knew my strengths coming here and I knew my weaknesses. One of the big things I said coming here is that I can learn the game. I can become a better footballer. 

“The fact that people said I couldn’t pass water when I signed here and say now that I look like a footballer, I see that as a massive complement to me. It is testament to the manager and all the coaching staff who have brought me to this level. I’ve worked really hard to learn. They have given me the tools to become the player that I have. I am still not there yet and I can improve

“Winning the league wasn’t just something we’ve been trying to achieve this season but something we have worked towards over the last number of years. It was a fantastic experience and that is my first time ever winning the league. I’ve been trying to do it over the last ten years so it was a really special moment for me. We enjoyed the night of the trophy presentation and we made sure we celebrated as it is important to do that and acknowledge what we had done.” 

A hardcopy and digital version of this programme is available to purchase from Shamrock Rovers here.

Pico Lopes & the Blue Sharks

October 27, 2019 Leave a comment

It started with a message on LinkedIn. Well two messages on LinkedIn
as Roberto ‘Pico’ Lopes thought the first one was spam! Thankfully the
Shamrock Rovers defender followed up and by doing so it led to him
making his international debut for Cape Verde earlier this month
against Togo and a game a few days later against Olympique Marseille.

“This time last year I was contacted on LinkedIn with a message that I
thought was spam as it was in Portuguese,” said Lopes when he chatted
to Hoops Scene this week about his call up for the ‘Blue Sharks’
recent matches and training camp in France.

“I got another message more recently and when I translated it I saw
they were talking about getting new players into the Cape Verde squad
and asking me was I interested in declaring. I said I’d love to make
myself available. I spoke with the vice president of their football
federation. I needed to provide my own birth cert and my Dad’s birth
cert and it went from there.”

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The Cape Verde manager, and former Portuguese striker, Rui Aguas
brought his squad together in the south of France earlier this month
ahead of the start of African Nations Cup qualifying in mid-November.
Lopes was one of a number of new players brought into the squad and he
would be one of five players to make his international debut in the
match against Togo.

“With all the new players it made it easier on the first night when we
had sing an initiation song. I was going to do something by Drake but
they said it had to be in Creole. I don’t speak the language so I had
to go and do my research. I went on Spotify and the first Cape Verdean
song I found was an old popular folk song that everyone knew so once I
started all the lads joined in. It really helped me settle in!”

What also helped the settling in process was making a winning start to
his international career. Lopes lined out with players plying their
trade right across Europe – player with clubs like AEL Limassol
(Cyprus), Excelsior (Netherlands), Atay Spor (Turkey) and, as would be
expected for a former Portuguese territory, a number of clubs from
Portugal. Cape Verde, a ten island archipelago 350 miles off north
west Africa, gained its independence from Portugal back in 1975.

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Trailing 1-0 at half time, Porto striker Ze Luis made the difference
in the second half. “Ze Luis came on and he is a beast of a man along
with all the silky skills of a top player. He gave us more bite up
top. We got two goals for the win and I was really buzzing after it.”

Later in the week Lopes got the chance to play against an Olympique
Marseille side managed by Andre Villa Boas. Cape Verde got a very
creditable 1-1 draw against a team that included internationals such
as Dimitri Payet (France), Dario Benedetto (Argentina) and Duje
Caleta-Car (Croatia). “I played in the second half against Marseille
and it was fantastic to play against some of those players.”

The excellent facilities at Rovers’ Academy set up at Roadstone pailed
in comparison to Marseilles’ La Commanderie training ground according
to Lopes. “They blew my mind. Being in the south of France helped with
the sunny weather! It was on the side of a mountain with six and seven
top quality pitches and lots of impressive buildings.

“I was able to take the two jerseys with me after the matches and they
souvenirs for my Da. It was nice to take something home as I never
thought this was going to happen for me.”

With that second game played at the weekend behind closed doors, his
family didn’t travel across but Lopes is hopeful that he could be
involved in the upcoming African Nations Cup qualifiers. If that is
the case he is hoping his family will travel out to Cape Verde and he
could spend some time after the matches in the League of Ireland
off-season with his grandfather and his family.

“Hopefully if I’m involved in the next squad, my family might join me
on holiday to where my Dad is from and visit my Grandad. I’ve been to
Cape Verde just twice before. My Granddad is in his 90s so if we go
down there I’ll go across to the island where he lives after and spend
some time with him.

“The first game is away to Cameroon and then it is home to Mozambique
so if I was involved in November I’d get a chance to go to Cameroon
too which would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. Once
you’ve got a taste for it, you want more so I’ll be putting my head
down and working hard for Rovers in the last few games.”

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His international call up meant that he missed his first Rovers game
of the season in the 1-0 win over Finn Harps but he was back for last
week’s 3-0 win over UCD. You had to feel a bit sorry for the Students
who were facing relegation straight in the face on the night.

Ireland international Joey O’Brien gave the Hoops a 1-0 lead, and with
Lee Grace, along with Danny Lafferty and Alan Mannus (both Northern
Ireland internationals) they were keeping Rovers’ 24th clean sheet in
the 44 first team games so far this season.

In the second half Stephen Bradley brought on two current
internationals in Lopes and Irish player Graham Burke, although the
Students could be thankful though that the sixth international in the
Hoops squad Jack Byrne was sitting amongst the Rovers supporters in
the stand in Belfield due to suspension!

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Lopes was delighted with the clean sheet, their 20th in the league
campaign which matches the 20 clean sheet haul from last season. That
compares with eight in the 2017 season and that shows the progression
for Lopes the club has made in the last few years summed up with
Rovers’ upcoming first appearance in the FAI Cup final since 2010.

“It has been a lot of hard work and building confidence in the way we
play. We have that bit of steel, getting more clean sheets and closing
the gap on Dundalk. We are competing for things as we should be and we
have chance to win something this year in the Aviva against Dundalk.

“One of the big reasons that I wanted to sign here was to develop as a
player. You look at the staff here with the gaffer (Stephen Bradley),
Stephen McPhail, Glenn Cronin and Damien Duff, when he was here, is
they are all top quality pros. I knew I’d be able to develop as a
player here and you’ve seen that across the team and the style of play
we have.

“It is the two best teams going for the cup. If you want to win things
you have to beat the best teams and Dundalk have shown what a top team
they have been over the last number of years.

“We have taken points off them and we have beaten them in big games in
recent years. We are looking forward to it. It has been so long since
a Rovers team has won the cup and a while since we have been in a
final. You can feel that energy around the place. I cannot wait to
step out on the pitch in the Aviva.”

Published in Hoops Scene 19/2019 (Shamrock Rovers v Cork City)