Angola - September 09, 2021 21:00The Angolan journeyReport by Emanuele RissoCover photo courtesy: CAF (Angola celebrating their historical qualification for the World Cup)

The Long and Winding Road to Lithuania

On Tuesday 14th September, 2021, the Angolan futsal national team will make its historical debut at the World Cup against Japan. One can say that the amazing journey of the Palancas Negras (Black Antelopes) began almost exactly to the day two years earlier, on September 16th, 2019, when the team first met to prepare for their African Cup of Nations (ACN) qualification games against Zambia (October 21st at the Chipololo's; October 31st at home).

Angola were looking for their third consecutive ticket to the continental tournament. In their 2008 debut campaign, only goal difference stopped them from qualifying for the semifinals. In that edition, out of two groups of five teams each, they reached third place in Group B with a +1 goal difference, losing to Mozambique's +13. Finalists Egypt and Libya (title winners) were consequently the two teams that represented Africa at the 2008 World Cup in Brazil.
Burkina Faso was supposed to host ACN 2011, but withdrew. As the CAF couldn't find a new host nation, a separate qualification tournament was organized to decide the African representatives who would go to the following 2012 World Cup in Thailand. Angola did not participate.

So five more years transpired before we could once again see the Palancas Negras at the continental level. After defeating Cameroon in the preliminary round, they traveled to South Africa for ACN 2016, where they were drawn in the toughest of groups: Egypt, Libya and Morocco, namely the very three teams that participated in Thailand 2012! Needless to say, they ended up with three defeats and zero points.

Flash forward to autumn of 2019. The playoff with Zambia was quite a walk in the park, with a 0-4 away victory in Lusaka and an emphatic 9-1 win in the second leg in Luanda. In January 2020, Angola would travel to Morocco and try to reach the knock-out stage for the first time. The team seemed more experienced than ever, and coach Benvindo Inácio declared that "the third time could be the charm".

He wasn't wrong.

Drawn in Group B with Egypt, Guinea and Mozambique, Angola reached second place with six points and a single loss against the Pharaohs. Then, after losing the semifinal with eventual champions Morocco, the dream became reality on February 7th, 2020, after a 2-0 win in the third-place match against Libya. Inácio and his boys got back home not only with a bronze medal, but, most importantly, also with a ticket to Lithuania.
However, COVID-19 came along shortly after the great achievement and ruined the party. On May 20th, the 2020 World Cup was officially postponed to 2021.

The third-placed team at the 2020 African Cup of Nations. (Photo courtesy: CAF)

Big changes ahead of the World Cup...

With the tournament being postponed, the main event for Angolan futsal in 2020 was the election of the new president of Federação Angolana de Futebol de Salão (FAFUSA). By the way, does the name FAFUSA sound familiar to you? The Angolan futsal federation was formerly affiliated with AMF, the organization that emerged out of the ashes of FIFUSA after most of FIFUSA’s members moved to a place under the FIFA umbrella. However, the current name of the organization and use of the expression "futebol de salão" (the very root of the word futsal: FUTebol de SALão) still reveal their roots in the pre-FIFA game. FAFUSA elections took place on October 31st, with Manuel Silvestre winning against outgoing president Noé Alexandre.

...not without controversies

One of the first, big decisions by the newly-elected Silvestre came with the new year, when he called coach Inácio on the phone to tell Inácio that he would be removed from his duties. This, as Inácio himself declared to local national radio channel Rádio 5, was deemed as a political move: "As I understand it, I am out of the Angola national team because I disrespected some members from [electoral] list B [Silvestre's] and was in favour of list A [Alexandre's]. I can only say that I was the Angolan national team coach and I was ready to work with whichever list."

Inácio's dismissal was quite a surprise. As the leader of the heroic Moroccan expedition, he had many supporters in the Angolan futsal community, although some didn't like his character, accusing him of acts of disrespect towards players and referees. Those in favour of Rui Sampaio's appointment gave him high marks for his long experience at Coprat FC, one of the best futsal clubs in the country, not only as coach, but also president and owner. In fact, Coprat players comprise half of the World Cup squad list, while only three players are from their main rivals, Grupo Desportivo RNT (stars Manosele and Jó, along with 21-year-old Leo). Silvestre's past as Coprat vice-president could also be seen as a clue about the reason of the change on the Angolan bench.

Sampaio, current Angola NT coach. (Photo courtesy: Edições Novembro/Jornal de Angola)

A Long Preparation

Rui Sampaio began preparations for the World Cup on April 29 with a list of 30 players. This first training stage would last one month.
Along with the heroes who won the bronze medal in Laayoune in 2020 (all from Angolan clubs), Sampaio extended the list to include more promising players from local teams, as well as others from abroad. Some of them were players with experience in some of the best leagues in the world, such as Egash Kasintura (Novaya Generatsya, Russian Super League), Dill (Jaraguá, Brazil’s LNF) and Angel Bingyoba, a pivot from Jaén Paraiso Interior (Spain) now on loan at Atletico Mengíbar in the LNFS’ second division.
Unfortunately for the coach, things didn't go exactly as planned: Bingyoba did not accept the call from the country of his family, as he thought prizes and bonuses offered by the Angolan federation were unacceptable, while others who did accept could not join the Palancas Negras team due to bureaucratic problems. Eventually, only three players from foreign leagues made the final list: Tonilson 'Toni' Anibal and Edivaldo 'Edy' Magalhães are respectively from Os Vinhais and Estoril Praia (both in Group F of Portugal’s third division), while Ricardo Serrão da Veiga plays at Luxembourgian club CS Sanem.
The team also had their dose of bad luck during the summer, with various injuries and COVID-19 cases hindering their progress. Coach Rui Sampaio also caught the illness, leaving him at the hospital in Luanda while the players were traveling to Europe on August 24th for a series of friendly matches in Portugal. Sampaio would finally join the expedition on September 4th.

An image from a training session (Photo courtesy: Arão Martins | Edições Novembro – Huíla/Jornal de Angola)

The team's style of play is very daring, almost an exercise in 1-on-1 indulgence. Although maybe a bit disorganized tactically speaking, they are good when controlling the ball and have players of great individual quality. A good example is GD RNT's Manosele: the 24 year old went viral during the last ACN when he scored a stunning goal with a rainbow flick & volley combo against Mozambique in the group stage – a genius goal that demonstrates the aforementioned audacity and individual quality.
In Portugal, they lost 4-3 against the reigning European champions and 5-3 to Uzbekistan, but they also got a victory against Venezuela (5-2). Overall, they made a good impression. It's a very attractive team in the fan's eyes, offering something that nowadays many long for: playfulness and goals (as long as we assume that those in favour outnumber those against!) The downside of this style of play is the lack of solidity in defense. In a group with Spain, Paraguay and Japan, they definitely have chances to gather some points, but defensive slips are not easily forgiven in a World Cup.

Manosele scoring his stunning goal against Mozambique (Photo courtesy: DR/Jornal de Angola)

Posted by Luca Ranocchiari -->
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