It would be easy to say Angola will be completely overmatched at the World Cup. Then again, no one even expected them to get this far. Just qualifying for this summer’s tournament was a huge success. It was a glorious day last fall when the national team of Angola, a poverty-stricken country that has seen decades of war and strife, surprised everyone and quailed for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Realistically, if the Palancas Negras (Black Impalas) can win or even tie a game then they should consider their first World Cup a success. A win or tie against Portugal would be particularly huge, since that country was the former colonial ruler of Angola and there are still many ties between the two nations.
World Cup success could largely depend upon team captain Fabrice Akwa. The veteran forward continues to score goals though he is now in his mid-30s. Speedy young striker Pedro Mantorras (Benfica) missed many of the qualifiers with a knee injury and recently complained that Angola coach Luis Oliveira Goncalves kept him on the bench too much. If he is fit and focused he has the talent to cause problems for opposing defenses.
Several of the team’s other key players are among a group who were born in Angola but raised in Portugal. Paulo Figueiredo (Varzim) was a journeyman midfielder playing in the Portuguese second division. With Angola, however, he has been very influential and he scored a crucial goal against Nigeria in qualifying. Goalkeeper Joao Ricardo may be the only player in the tournament without a professional club. Nevertheless, the 36-year-old has been surprisingly consistent despite having to train on his own. One other player who is slightly more well known is defender Manuel Rui Marques (Leeds). Pedro Emanuel (Porto) agreed to represent Angola, but FIFA rejected his bid to switch affiliation from Portugal.
With several countries making their first trip to the World Cup this summer, one is sure to cause some surprises and go farther than the rest. Will it be Angola? Despite their perpetual underdog status they never give up. With a lucky goal and some good defense anything is possible.