Impalas’ revenge? | A dream fixture for postcolonialists

President Agostinho Neto was imprisoned four times by the Portuguese; he was also a published poet and physician. Angolans called him “Our Immortal Guide.”

Given this capsule history, that Angola has recorded the sporting milestone of World Cup qualification—in addition to eight continental basketball championships—becomes all the more miraculous. Birmingham in his book mentions that football, failing a renouncing of colonial holdings by Portugal premier António de Oliveira Salazar, became the “white alternative to politics.” For resistance among blacks, the sport served as cover for organizing. The leader of a rival wing of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), Nito Alves, became president of the Sambizanga football team, building prestige and using supporters’ groups as agents of political will. From this base he was able to challenge the country’s first president, Agostinho Neto, setting into motion an attempted coup d’état in Luanda on 27 May 1977.

So how did the Palancas Negras do it? With players from the diaspora, playing mainly in the first and second divisions in Portugal, and from a 14-team semi-professional domestic league, how did the side congeal to better Nigeria in qualification group 4? For one, domestic football has never ceased despite 40-some years of war. Before 1975, when there was no national team, José íguas of Lobito, Angola, captained Benfica to consecutive European Cups in 1961 and 1962; he gained 25 caps for Portugal. “The domestic championship has been played every single year,” says José Cunha, a commentator on Luanda station LAC 95.5 FM (Paul Doyle,How Angola Shocked the World—and Themselves,” The Guardian, 11 October).

Even when the roads were destroyed and the communications networks were ruined, we never missed a season. I think that proves how attached our people are to football and what a big factor it is in national unity.

Credit also goes to Gonçalves, who mined expatriate talent in the Portuguese leagues and who brings continuity, having worked with Benfica striker Pedro Mantorras and team captain Fabrice “Akwa” Maieko since their days in youth football.

For those who enjoy scanning the fine print in the Financial Times, bidding opportunities abound for offshore oil concessions.

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