Angola prove stability can bring success

January 26, 2008

TAMALE, Ghana, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Angola's impressive rise to the forefront of African soccer is down to organisation, stability and the generosity of the government, coach Luis Oliveira Goncalves said.

Traditionally among the also-rans of African soccer, Angola have reached the last two Nations Cup finals and the 2006 World Cup despite a line-up which, on paper at least, makes less than impressive reading.

While many of their African Nations Cup rivals boast squads full of players based at clubs in Europe's top leagues, Angola's have players from local sides, one from the English League One (third division) and another from the Swedish second.

But the sum is considerably more than the parts.

'The secret is the discipline we impose, our hard work and the psychological preparation of our players,' Goncalves told Reuters.

'Also, the federation provides excellent conditions. Recently we went to the Algarve in Portugal to prepare our team while the federation and the government give good prizes to the players.

'For each of the 35 players who helped us qualify for the World Cup, the president of the republic gave them, from his own resources, a house worth $200,000, in addition to the all other bonuses.

'This motivates the players more.'

'Fortunately, they consider just being here and representing their country is a prize for them in itself.'

Angola, who drew 1-1 with South Africa in their opening Group D game on Wednesday and face Senegal on Sunday, are also immune to the bickering over prize money which disrupts the preparations of many other African national sides.

'These things don't happen with Angola. The first thing the federation does when we go to the Nations Cup is to bring together the players and talk about the bonuses so this is settled beforehand,' said Goncalves.

In a continent where national team coaches rarely last more than a year, Goncalves is close to completing five years at the helm.

Previously, he was in charge of the youth teams including the side which took part at the World Youth championship in Argentina in 2001 and he knows the Angolan game inside out.

'I have worked with all the divisions since 1999, the under-15, under-17, under-18, under-23,' he said.

'A lot of these players are here now - Lama, Gilberto, Mendonca, so I have been with these young players for a long time.'

Goncalves said he had enlisted the help of Angolan embassies in Europe in the search for players who were eligible to play.

'There are Angolan embassies who point us to a player in England and we go to observe them. It's a team effort,' he said.

'The whole of Angola has mobilised itself to support Angolan football and the national team.'

Goncalves said the team's success has helped change the image of the country previously ignored or associated with civil war.

'I was once sharing a room with a Soviet and I told him Angola was a state of the United States and he believed me. And because of the fact that I speak Portuguese, a lot of people thought that the Angolan coach was from Portugal.'

'Now, thanks mainly to Angola's participation in the World Cup, everyone knows where it is.'