War and Peace – Angola is now finding its own Theatre of Dreams in the World Cup. If Old Trafford is the “Theatre of Dreams” and the beloved home - base for all the fans of the famously international Manchester United Football Club of England, the Estádio Amahoro of Kigali has become the equivalent for the supporters of Palancas Negras – the football mad nation of Angola. ’Amahoro’ means “peace” for Angolans in a Rwandan dialect. Now it has taken on a new meaning – that of national unity and a feeling of rejoicing in the peace that has been so hard to obtain.
Gaining a place of honour in the qualifications for Football’s World Cup in Germany in 2006 - after emerging from a horrible war - has brought a feeling of comfort to the footballing ambitions of this nation. Although devastated by war, Angola has become a nation which is an integral part of ’CAN’ (the Championship of African Nations)” and we see ourselves moving on to more than just this next World Cup.
Thirty years of independence, thirty years of national glory which means the same to our football, when the draw will inform us in December to which group Angola will join. This will be, without any doubt, a very special moment in the independent history of Angola, a moment which will express the national unity, comparable to other moments of national mobilisation experienced in the past. Moments which will remain in the memory of many Angolans, independent of their social, political and religious condition, moments which will allow the world to discover Angola once again and enable us to show our potential regarding human and sports values to the world. Sports, and specifically football, succeed in keeping the Angolan nation united. Its qualification for football’s world championship is, indeed, a very special event, unmeasurable historically and politically, qualification which has taken place after putting down weapons. Despite all difficulties faced, the Angolan football national team has been able to give back pride to Angolans who can now forget about the war, the pain and the political and social differences. President of Angola, Mr. Eduardo Dos Santos’s words have given another dimension to the nation: “As I have said: With this first World Cup qualification, our football national team has made a dream come true. In a way our dream. First of all, this is a moment of great emotion for me as an Angolan and especially for being a fan of this sport for many years. Secondly, because we are going to live a great moment in our national football history. And this is the first time we will be represented in a world cup. We have made a part of our dream come true”.
The president added: “We will have to work harder to ensure that our country is represented with dignity; that the technical team, the players and the whole nation will strive to ensure that we will have a very well trained team able to achieve good results. I feel honoured. I do not have words to express my gratitude to our players who have worked so hard, who have sacrificed so much to honour Angola’s name. This task was very difficult. We knew that our rivals were better trained, but in those matches we won, we showed a better quality in every aspect, not only in the technicality of our football, but also in leadership and solidarity”.
“Our players have given a great answer to all those who questioned whether Angola could represent Africa with dignity. We go to the World Cup! We will do everything possible to convince the world that we are a professional football nation in this World Cup. – Dos Santos adds – There is no doubt that Angola, after its first three years of peace, is about to change the most important events in its national life”.
Qualification, he says, for the World Championships in Germany will confirm that Angolan people are a nation like others, a nation able to do great things in sports as well as in the social and economical sphere. “We do have values” Dos Santos says – a promise he makes not only as a member of the government but also as a football fan. He gives his word that Angola’s team will represent Africa with dignity. And adds: “This victory is the result of the effort of a brave, heroic and generous nation which never gave up its responsabilities”. On the soccer side, not least, this achievement is down to the devoted work of Oliveira Goncalves, for more than 13 years heavily involved with the selection of the Angolan national teams. Goncalves is the only Angolan trainer to have won the continental award by leading the Angolan Under 20’s team in 2001 in Ethiopia and at the same time he was the first Angolan to qualify for “The Palancas Negras”, for the Championship of African Nations (CAN), to be held in 2006, in Egypt.
The preparation for the World Cup in Germany started back in 1984, when Angola first staked a claim during the qualification matches, winning against Senegal in Cidadela on July 4. Palancas Negras’s victory was by: 1-0. During their second match, Angola lost by the same score. By that time qualifications were done by direct eliminatinations, as opposed to the actual group configuration. During the second and last eliminatinations in order to qualify for the World Cup in Mexico in 1986, Angola played Algeria who failed to score against Luanda. During the second round, in a memorable match Angola was eliminated 3-2 as Algeria counted on the referee’s help to get their qualification for the World Cup. It was the first failed attempt to qualify for the World Cup although it should be noted that Algeria, after victory over Angola, appeared in the finals in Mexico in 1986. After being prematurely eliminated for the World Cup in Italy in 1990 and USA in 1994, Angola’s selected team tried once again for France in 1998. Included in a group comprising of the Cameroons, Zimbabwe and Togo, Angola began by defeating Zimbabwe, 2-1. In the next round Angola played in Yaoundé and lost to the ’Leoes Indomáveis’ (The Indomitable Lions). Afterwards they beat Togo 3-1 in Cidadela. The Palancas Negras went later to Harare to earn another point in a goal-less draw and then had to defeat Cameroons in Luanda to qualify. A 1-1 draw and another 1-1 draw with Togo in Lome was not enough and ended Angola’s dream of reaching the World Cup finals in France in 1998. Today, as in their two previous attempts, Angola could gain a page of glory in world soccer history by winning against Rwanda.
There is a popular saying: “Victory comes at the third attempt”. All Angolians do hope that they will be lucky for the third time.
By Antonio Ferreira Goncalves
President of NSJA Angola