Article: Maurice Quansah
Angola have emerged as a force to be reckoned with within the last three years after their surprise qualification for the Germany 2006 FIFA World Cup at the expense of Nigeria.
Two years later the southern African nation is back at the Africa Cup of Nations tournament after an easy run in the qualifying series, finishing a group winners from a pool that included Eritrea, Kenya and Swaziland.
The Palancas Negras qualified in their penultimate match against Swaziland, winning four of six matches to make their fourth appearance at the Nations Cup.
As host of the 2010 Nations Cup, the Angolans aim to make a good showing at Ghana 2008 in order to boost their confidence and chance on home soil two years later.
The Palancas Negras, who have never progressed past the group stage of the Nations Cup, are pooled in Group D alongside former champions South Africa and Tunisia, and Senegal, one of the favourites for the tournament. They need at least four points and a healthy goal difference to guarantee them a place in the second round, and their opening group fixture against the Bafana Bafana on January 23 will be crucial in determining their fate.
Coach Luis Oliveira Goncalves, who guided the team to the 2006 World Cup, has built a formidable team around predominantly home-based players and a few others with European experience, who could spring a surprise in the tournament. At Ghana 2008, he will look up to his Al-Ahly striker Flavio Amado da Silva and Manucho Goncalves, who recently signed for English premiership giants Manchester United, to spearhead the team’s campaign.
Angola made their first Nations Cup appearance 12 years ago in South Africa where they suffered a first round exit after finishing bottom of their group, which included the host team and eventual champions.
In their second appearance, the Angolans were again eliminated after the preliminary round, finishing in third position behind Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa.
However, the team failed to build on their modest successes in continental football and experienced a Nations Cup drought after missing the next three tournaments until the arrival of Coach Goncalves. The local coach rebuilt the team and took them through a successful qualifying campaign for both the 2006 FIFA World Cup and Nations Cup tournaments. They fought gallantly to win a close race with Nigeria, qualifying on account of better head-to-head record.
Egypt 2006 was by far the country’s best Nations Cup performance as they recorded their first ever Nations Cup win, a 3-2 victory over Togo, but that could not guarantee them a place at the quarter-final stage after finishing third in the group.
Making it past the group stage at Ghana 2008 will be by far the best thing to happen to the team since their World Cup qualification two years ago. However, their Nations Cup record does not inspire much confidence. They have won just one out of nine matches played, drawn four and lost as many games. On head-to-head, they have never beaten South Africa and Tunisia and have lost their last two clashes against Senegal.
In their build-up to the Nations Cup, Angola were hammered 0-3 by Guinea last November but last Sunday they played a inspiring 3-3 draw with Egypt in a friendly match, a result that should boost their confidence for their January 23 group opener against South Africa in Tamale.
Even though Coach Goncalves has a very talented side, his team’s success is dependent on the scoring form of striker Flavio, who scored five goals in their qualifiers, to lead their Group D campaign.
The 27-year-old Flavio has previous Nations Cup experience, having scored thrice at the 2006 Nations Cup in Egypt and also holds the distinction of scoring Angola’s only World Cup finals goal in a 1-1 draw with Iran at Germany 2006.