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World Cup Diary

GAME 8, GROUP D, JUNE 11, 2006 --COLOGNE
ANGOLA 0, PORTUGAL 1
final

If any game has the making of a blow-out early in this so-far too-predictable World Cup, this one is it. Angola's black antelopes, as they're fondly known in their forsaken country, are a gathering of incidentals. The games they played to qualify were a collection of unlikely fortunes and happy luck. They did the impossible by qualifying ahead of Nigeria, just, and they came close to failing at that in their last qualifying game, against the raggedy Rwandan team, a match the antelopes played like high school maniacs on the verge of a nervous breakdown. They won it 1-0 and qualified, but this is the team that gives skin's teeth its due. And poor Angola: To see them as part of the World Cup final 32 is as unlikely as seeing Lebanon in the bunch: the two countries have more war than peace in their recent past, and civil war at that. But here's where the unexpected comes in. Angola was under the Portuguese boot for the better part of the last millennium. It won its independence in 1975, when Portugal was still a fascist country. And then Angola delved into civil war. This game today might as well be its coming out party. A little revenge may be buzzing up the antelopes' blood this evening. If not that, then a lot of enthusiasm and happiness to be in Cologne.

Here's what Swedish writer Henning Mankell wrote recently: "Once I visited a refugee camp for Angolans who had been forced to flee the civil war. When the trucks arrived with new contingents of refugees, those who were already in the camp gathered in the hope that some vanished relative would be among the new arrivals. Suddenly a young woman began to shriek and dance. She almost tore her clothes off. She danced around two old people, a man and a woman. The young woman cried and screamed, she patted the old woman on the cheek and took the man's hand. I found out later that these were her parents, whom she had believed to be dead. That is what true happiness looks like, I thought. I will never forget those three Angolan people who found one another again. For me they are the image of an Angola where people will find themselves again and find the past again, the past that was stolen from them. Of course they will succeed. Angola is a country that deserves all our support, all our respect. Out of inconceivable suffering they are creating a new world."

And now let's enjoy their game.

4... And just like that, set up by the great Figo, Eusebio taps it in, and it's 1-0 Portugal

11... Portugal seem intent on overwhelming the opposition. They must have hammered it into their head before the game: no overconfidence. But isn't this the team that was embarrassed on its home field in Euro 2004, and equally embarrassed in World Cup '02? Not a stellar World Cup history for Portugal despite having Figo, one of the best players in the world in his distant prime. He's collecting Social Securuty these days, but still playing, as you just saw.

Both sides speak the same language on this field.

20... Not much possession for Angola, but less of a sense of panic, too. That early goal may just give Portugal the overconfidence they prepared against! But so far Angola has found no answer.

23... The half is running away from Angola as fast as Portugal's players are outrunning them, outgunning them and outmuscling them, but not yet outsweating them. Angola have still managed a couple of rifle shots inside the penalty area. They may as well. Portugal's anti-aircraft machinery is untested: it could well be Angola's luck; Ah! another scissor kick by Akwa!

26... Where is my pilsner?

27... Nasty Angola foul there on a Portugal player making a run down the far wing. The old colonialists are getting their Iberian shins shaved up, even if their goal posts have been safe.

Notice the small black antelopes on the front of Angola's jerseys? Nice touch, and another try from Akwa, from a few miles out, but still beautiful to see: the captain is trying to get his players shooting, and wouldn't you know it: possession has shifted Angola's way!

32... This game is nowhere near out of sight for the antelopes. They have figured out how to stave off Portugal. Now they only need to figure out how to stick it to their net. They keep trying those long-range shots. I'm all for it. Just try moving up a bit more.

34 FIGO CORNER KICK ONTO RONALDO'S head, and off the crossbar! Oh, what a miraculous break for Angola, what a cross to bear for Portugal.

37... These swiftly played, consistently intense games today contrast again and again with the awful quality of play on England's part yesterday. We still don't have breakaway scoring, but we have entertainment and heart.Portugal (unlike England yesterday) is taking nothing for granted.

42... Fabulous chance for Angola... as Akwa takes a rifel shot from 25 yards out, forcing a save.

44. Ronaldo takes a shot of his own and the keeper pulls a page out of Trinidad's game! Wonderful shot, wonderful save.

No blow-out for Portugal in this game. The black antelopes take to the locker room with their pride virtually intact, and their chances improved.

Half-time fun: From a New York Times editorial, November 26, 1994: " For 19 years Angolans have fought one of Africa's bloodiest civil wars, fueled by cold-war rivalries and costing half a million lives. On Sunday the two sides signed a peace treaty in Lusaka, Zambia -- the third attempt to end the conflict. If it is to succeed, the international community will have to keep up the pressure on both sides and offer some substantial help. In the end, however, the warring parties will have to show a little statesmanship. The rebel leader Jonas Savimbi did not show up for the signing, saying he feared leaving Angola; the document was signed by proxies. In the following days the Government charged that his Unita rebels were still fighting; Unita made similar counterclaims. By Wednesday the Government radio station said the truce was holding, as the two sides worked out the details of a power-sharing arrangement that will lead to an election in 1996. Mr. Savimbi's party lost elections in 1992, refused to accept the results and took up arms again. Confidence in the latest cease-fire is shaky. United Nations officials have been vague about plans to assemble a promised force of 7,000 peacekeeping troops, or even to monitor the cease-fire. This is a depressing outlook for a country that has been bathed in violence since it gained independence from Portugal in 1975. Angola's leaders need to realize that the divided world that fueled such conflicts no longer exists. Their choice now is to join the peace bandwagon and begin harnessing the country's resources to make life bearable, or descend again into anarchy."

Savimbi was killed in 2002.

SECOND HALF:

Eight shots by Angola is nothing to sneez at. Portugal had 11, 4 of them on goal. So this is still a competitive game. COME ON NOW ANGOLA! (and another irony, compliments of the British commentators: Cologne, the name of the town where this game is taking place, derives from the Latin for colony.)

48... Ze Kalanga. "That's the best part of watching the games," my wife says. "It's the names." Ze Kalanga just took a shot, by the way: Angola are still pressing. Good defending of a direct free kick on the Angola goal. But Portugal has not been an exciting team for the last twenty-odd minutes, going back to the first half.

56... corner to corner, but no results so far, up until this nice, straight, unadventurous shot by Pauleta on the Angola goal.

60... sliding try by Angola in the Portugal box... answered by a rise in Portugal temperature: a laser shot at the Angola keeper by Tiago, and back again with another attack broken up by Angola. Portugal is pressing again. As the commentator says, "It is still the most slender of leads for the Portuguese..." Not a good show on their part.

65... Second-half blues. What started as a great show, coasted to a well-fought battle and spiked from offensive burst to offensive burst has now settled into a rear-guard bore reminiscent of the worst of England's match. This is not what us screaming fans deserve twenty-odd minutes from the end of the match.

70... Well, I see on the radar some very nasty weather coming this way, all red and lightning-full, which means the satellite is in danger of losing its signal. At this point, it's not as if we'd be missing anything, although I see glimmers of an attempt here and there... not enough to raise this game from the living dead. The crowd is a lot more exciting than its shoiw. Come on guys, let's get it up.

75... As Walter Cronkite would say: We are mired in stalemate. But here's a freee kick just outside the box, at the far end. Figo took it, easily handled by the Angola defense, and I hear thunder outside. A bit more lively now.

78... At this point Angola must be thinking how terrible it is to have given up that early goal, how possible it would have been to pull off an uopset of sorts with a tie, as it now seems entirely within Angola's power. There's still time for that, but what a shame it would be if the game was lost in the first 4 minutes. Come on now antelopes, you have it in you.

86... no no no no no no no Angola you can't let your player make such a fabulous run on goal unassisted. And yet another shot by Angola's Mateus, but well-handled. Some great injury-time acrobatics at the other end of the field too, with a nice shot by Portugal's Maniche sending the Angola keeper stretching heavenward, but also saving. And that's it. Another disappointing 1-0 result.

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