by Christopher Stout
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On Oct. 8, 2005, 11 million Angolans celebrated the unthinkable. After beating Rwanda 1-0, Angola's qualifying campaign was over, and the African nation found itself level on points with Nigeria for the lead in Group Four. During the 10 rounds of qualification, Angola beat Nigeria 1-0 at home, and an away match against Nigeria ended in a draw. Because of the head-to-head rule, the Group and subsequent World Cup qualification belonged solely to Angola. To the surprise of many, the mighty Nigerians were out of the tournament, and after failing to qualify every time since 1984, Angola was going to its first-ever World Cup finals.
On Sunday, June 11, Angola will make its World Cup finals debut in an exciting match against an interesting opponent.
Portugal would be a tough first match for any squad, but the drama is extra thick when you consider the special relationship that exists between Angola and Portugal. You see, Portugal began to colonize Angola in 1575. For the next four hundred years, the Portuguese stuck around, and used Angola as a source for slaves to send over to Brazil.
The 2006 World Cup will be the first time that we see a Brazilian coaching a team of Angolans that primarily play in Portugal. The Portugal vs. Angola match-up is the ultimate upset special, complete with anti-colonial undertones. It'll be this World Cup's version of Senegal vs. France. Well, maybe. The Portuguese have played the Angolans twice in international play, and the results weren't very good for the Black Impalas.
Angola has twice been defeated by its former colonial rulers, losing 5-1 and 6-0 in two attempts in Portugal. Look for Angola to play with passion and intensity in a game with so many cultural and emotional dimensions. If Portugal is not careful, they could find themselves shocked by a first-round upset. Either way, Angola's World Cup debut promises to be an interesting spectacle.
The Angolan national team is coached by Luis Oliveira Gonclaves. In 2003, Gonclaves led the Angola Under-20 team to an African Youth title. That same team went on to qualify for the FIFA World Youth Championship, finishing in the Round of 16. Many of these young players are now on the national squad. Gonclaves has molded these young athletes into quality soccer players. The coach's familiarity with the players he's watched mature is an added bonus for Angola. Luis Oliveira Gonclaves replaced former coach Ismael Kurtz after Kurtz was dismissed in 2003. The "Professor" and "miracle man," as Gonclaves is called, is given a lot of credit for Angola's recent success.
Key Players: Angola is led by star striker Fabrice "Akwa" Maieco. An outspoken captain and national hero, Akwa is the heart and soul of the squad. Akwa is not only a clutch scorer, he's a cultural ambassador. "Angola is not just about oil, war and poverty," the outspoken leader of Angola's national squad has said.
Although previously with Benfica, Akwa currently plays in Qatar for the club team Al Wakra. At 33, Akwa is the oldest player on the national team, and he is by far the most experienced in international play. During qualifications, Akwa scored some very decisive goals. His timely scores against Rwanda and Nigeria were perhaps the primary reason why Angola earned its first-ever World Cup appearance.
Pedro "Mantorras" Manuel is another key contributor for Angola. This speedy-striker plays his ball in Portugal with Benfica. He's had injuries to worry about as of late, and he only participated in three World Cup qualifiers. Still, Mantorras did manage to find the net once during those games. Angola will need Mantorras to be healthy if they are to make a splash in Group D.
Familiarity and continuity are big positives for Angola. There are plenty of players on the national squad that were coached by Luis Oliveira Gonclaves at the 2001 World Youth Championships. This list includes players like Mantorras, Gilberto, Lama and Mendonca.
Angola World Cup 2006 Odds: The odds that the 62nd ranked team in the world will win the World Cup outright are 380/1 according to Bodog. Angola has a 16/1 chance of winning Group D, a group that includes Mexico, Portugal and Iran.
Strengths: Angola is team with blazing speed, a ton of heart, and a stout defense. During qualifications, Angola allowed only six goals (second-fewest among African sides in qualifying). Having a successful coach that you can trust, and who knows your team, is also a plus.
Weaknesses: Inexperience could be a factor for Angola, as well as the need to generate scores. Angola scored only 12 goals during qualifying (the lowest of any of the five African finalists).
Angola World Cup 2006 Outlook: Just being at the tournament is a positive for this squad. A first-round victory would be viewed as a huge success, and a victory against Portugal would be extra sweet.
Angola World Cup 2006 First Round Match Schedule (all times loacl):
June 11, Group D3 Angola vs. Group D4 Portugal in Cologne, 9 p.m.
Friday, June 16, Group D3 Angola vs. Group D1 Mexico in Hanover, 9 p.m.
Wednesday, June 21, Group D3 Angola vs. Group D2 Iran, Leipzig, 4 p.m.
Updated Angola World Cup 2006 News: