Angola soccer coach confident

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Angola will play Portugal in its first-ever World Cup match on June 11 in Cologne, Germany.

Updated: February 25, 2007 11:40 IST
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Whenever a soccer team from a country plays its former colonial invaders, things get interesting. The same is likely to happen when Angola plays Portugal in its first-ever World Cup match on June 11 in Cologne, Germany. The two teams have met twice before, and four Angolan players were sent off for brutal tackles and dissent the last time five years ago in Lisbon. That game was abandoned with 20 minutes to play. "One thing is playing a friendly and another is competing at the World Cup,'' Angola coach Luis Oliveira Goncalves said in a telephone interview from Luanda, Angola. "This is the first time Angola will face Portugal officially, so I think this game will be different from the last two.'' Clear favourite Portugal is the clear favorite in Group D, which also includes Mexico and Iran. That doesn't mean Angola won't be there to make a splash, though. "All games are difficult. Some are harder, some are easier. Even those we think are going to be easier sometimes end up being harder,'' Goncalves said. Fabrice Akwa and Benfica striker Pedro Mantorras are the team's stars, and Akwa is the man who scored the goal against Rwanda that helped Angola qualify for the World Cup. "I think we are going there to prove our football, to do what we did until now and to try and do better than in African Cup of Nations,'' Akwa said. "We know the favorites in our group are Portugal and Mexico, but we are going there to surprise these teams.'' Angola didn't surprise anyone at the African Cup earlier this year in Egypt. The Black Antelopes failed to reach the quarterfinals after losing to Cameroon and drawing with Congo. They then beat Togo in their last match, but it wasn't enough for either team to get through. "The game is for winning. We are going there to win all our games,'' Akwa added. "We have to fight in all the games, have to do our best, run more than Portugal. We want to play good games and show our football to the world.'' After playing Portugal, Angola will face Mexico on June 16. If the team fails to advance to the second round, the final group match against Iran on June 21 would be Akwa's last for the national team. "After the World Cup I'm going to stop playing for the national team,'' Akwa said. "After managing to qualify, I feel I've reached the highest point in my career as a player.'' Goncalves isn't happy about his star player calling it quits after the tournament, but still it's what happens in Germany that is most on his mind. And the idea that Angola is lucky because it was drawn into the weakest group isn't something to calm his nerves. "It might be the easiest group for others but not for Angola,'' Goncalves said. "Portugal is the European runner-up. I think other groups are much easier than ours. But all games are difficult.'' Still, if Angola can do to Portugal what Senegal did to former colonizer France - win - it will be a huge confidence boost. Angola gained its independence from Portugal in 1975. It is sub-Saharan Africa's second-largest oil producer after Nigeria. Angola also produces around $1 billion worth of diamonds annually. On the soccer field, Angola lost to Portugal 6-0 in 1989, and 5-1 in 2001 - both matches being played in Lisbon. Goncalves still thinks his team has a chance to sparkle - and spring an upset just like Senegal did. (AP)

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