World Cup: Angola vs Portugal today

The encounter with Portugal evokes a renewed form of liberation struggle. Several of the Angolan players ply their trade in Portugal and would want to show that they are better than their team-mates in Portugal. Angola is a former Portuguese colony and only broke that chain on 11 November 1975 when Agostinho Neto of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) was proclaimed the first president after 500 years of colonialism. Angola does not face the toughest of the groups but they will find the quality of football a few notches above their level. Only confidence and the underdog tag that they are carrying might save them from humiliation. They will compete against Portugal, Mexico and Iran. Their coach, Luis Oliveira Goncalves, admits fans should not expect much from his young side. The Angolans are banking on brilliant players such as baby-faced Joao “Jamba Jamba” Pereira who travels to Germany with the distinction of having played in 29 successive internationals for his country. A model of consistency and reliability, the central defender debuted in the national team at age 21 but had to wait five years until 2001 to feature for the national team again. He has since then competed in all of Angola’s international matches that have given the country two titles in the regional Cosafa Castle Cup ‘ in 1999 and 2001. They also have Antonio Lebo-Lebo who plies his trade with top local club, Petro Atletico. Lebo-Lebo played a key role in the vital World Cup qualifying win over Rwanda in Kigali in October last year. Angolan captain Fabrice “Akwa” Maieco is hoping for a surprise in the country’s first-ever finals at the FIFA World Cup that takes place from 9 June to 9 July. “We know the favourites in our group are Portugal and Mexico, but we are going there to surprise these teams,” said the 28-year-old striker, who is Angola’s reigning Footballer of the Year. Akwa scored the golden goal against Rwanda last October that enabled them to finish ahead of Nigeria in their qualifying group. Angola’s successful campaign to Germany 2006 has come amid economic boom that has never been recorded before in this southern African country. It is sub-Saharan Africa’s second largest oil producer after Nigeria, pumping 1.3 million barrels per day and the projected output is about two million barrels per day by 2008. A high economic growth of 20.6 percent was registered in 2005, being the country’s highest since independence. According to vice finance minister, Severim de Morais, Angola’s unemployment rate decreased by 74 percent in 2005, down to 29.2 percent in 2006. Angola powered out of Group Four of the African qualifying campaign that also included favourites Nigeria, Algeria, Gabon, Zimbabwe and Rwanda. But this time around, they will be weighing their chances against a Portuguese side whose recent record pits them as top contenders for the most coveted trophy in football. On the way to Germany 2006, Portuguese side, coached by Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari who has won the cup before as coach of his native team, emerged victorious in nine of their 12 matches and finished seven points clear of their closest qualifying group rivals, Slovakia. They scored more goals than any other team in Europe, with 35 goals to their credit. They conceded only five goals throughout the qualifying campaign. Striker Pauleta was one of the stars of their qualifying campaign, pumping in 11 goals. Pedro Miguel Carreiro Resendes, better known as Pauleta, is a natural goal-getter. One of the highlights of Portugal’s campaign was the 7-1 walloping of Russia in Lisbon in what was undoubtedly the finest display of their Group Three campaign. Germany 2006 will be the fourth FIFA World Cup final campaign in Portugal’s history but are yet to repeat the splendid performance they displayed at their debut appearance in 1966 when they cruised to the semi-finals in England. The major focus at the soccer showpiece will be Group A involving hosts Germany, Costa Rica, Poland and Ecuador and Group B which has England, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, and Sweden. Argentina, Cote d’Ivoire, Serbia-Montenegro and Netherlands will battle it out in Group C. Group E has Italy, Ghana, United States and Czech Republic while favourites Brazil are in Group F with Croatia, Australia and Japan. Group G involves France, Switzerland, South Korea and Togo while Group H has Spain, Ukraine, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. Another African hopeful is Cote d’Ivoire, a team that carries some of the best English Premiership players in Chelsea’s Didier Drogba and the Arsenal duo of Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue. The draws have not done them any good. Of all the teams, they are drawn against another favourite in the name of Argentina, a star-studded and vibrant Holland side out to prove themselves, and a Serbia-Montenegro team that conceded only one goal in their qualifying campaign. ‘ sardc.net

June 2006
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