Angola emerges from shadows of war

Watching Angola train and prepare for their World Cup journey, it is easy to view them as just another international football team.

    The end of war has seen football return to Angola's streets

    But look just a little closer and you will see that they reveal an extraordinary story.

    Not surprisingly football was a low priority for a country enduring a 27 year civil war. Many Angolans were too frightened to even play in the street.

    To show any sign of physical fitness could result in a young man being taken away to fight. Yet after just 4 years of peace this squad is preparing to take on the world.

    Their captain is Fabrice Akwa, a focal point for the team and an adoring nation.


    Nickname: Black Impalas (Palancas Negras)
    Previous World Cup appearances: 0
    Star player: Fabrice Akwa

    He talks with something close to paternal pride about his players and the people of Angola. "Our team has made the fans so happy," he says, a reluctant smile breaking out over his normally serious face.

    "Before this World Cup the people had only worries and problems. Now we have shown it is okay for them to dream and okay for them to wish for something better in life."

    Their supporters have barely stopped celebrating since a night last October when victory in Rwanda saw Angola top their World Cup qualifying group and in the process knock out Nigeria, one of the established superpowers of African football.


    Qualification for the World Cup
    sparked national street parties

    The on-going street party was no fluke. A committed team of coaches, headed by manager Luis Oliveira Goncalves, brought many of these players together more than a decade ago. They provided them with a safe environment to play in and are now seeing their efforts rewarded.

    I first met Goncalves at the African Cup of Nations in Egypt earlier this year. At the time his team were struggling and on their way out of the competition.

    For most managers it would have been all the excuse they needed to stop talking to the press. But Goncalves was and is different.

    He sees his job as much more than that of a football coach. Rather he views himself and his players as envoys of Angola, who have an obligation to tell the world that their country is recovering.

    "When we qualified for the World Cup nearly two million people were waiting to congratulate us at the airport and on the streets of our capital Luanda.

    Unifying force

    The Angolan team hope to bring
    a new image of their country

    "Football united the people, it brought politicians who were in conflict together. I really believe that with peace Angola will be able to do great things at all levels, not just on the football pitch."

    Never will the supporters have been more united than when they witness their first World Cup match. As a former Portuguese colony, who should Angola find themselves playing but their former colonial masters.

    Nobre Edson is one of the few Angolans to play regular first team football in Europe and he does so in Portugal. The Pacos de Ferreira midfielder can hardy believe the World Cup hand he has been dealt.

    "To play against Portugal is like a dream," he says. "We share a language, a history, it is so special. To think that Angola will be playing at the World Cup, and that I will be playing on the same stage as great players like Luis Figo, Ronaldo and Thierry Henry is unbelievable."

    His captain has perhaps described the importance of this team best of all.

    Akwa told me that his players have at last proved there is more to Angola than just oil, war and poverty. In Germany they will be able to demonstrate that in front of the whole world.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera



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