Still In The Running
Angola 0-0 Mexico
A recurrent theme of this World Cup has been this: smaller countries going into matches against “bigger” opposition, getting eleven men behind the ball, and playing for the goal-less draw. On the whole, it hasn’t worked. Paraguay conceded a late goal against Sweden, as did Poland against Germany Trinidad managed it against Sweden, but the two late goals that they conceded against England have left them requiring a mountain to climb to get through. I’m glad that this phenomenon has not really worked. It has spoilt matches that should have been far more entertaining, but it’s nice to know that, even now, football matches are still being won by the teams that score the most goals, rather than the team that concedes the least, if you catch my drift. It may be easier to play ultra-defensively, but it still doesn’t seem to be quite easy enough yet.
You’ll forgive me, though, if I cast aside my irritation at this concept when it comes to Angola, though. They were excellent against Portugal, and in this match, though they barely had a shot on target themselves, what alternative did they have? They’ve cobbled a team together from wherever they could find anyone. Their goalkeeper, Joao Ricardo, isn’t even signed to a club. He’s spent the last year reportedly training on his own. I can’t see this still being the case in a few weeks time. He was outstanding this evening. Unorthodox, but outstanding. For that alone, they deserved their point, especially when, after the harsh sending-off of Macanga with eleven minutes to play, they only had ten players.
Mexico, who always qualify from the group stages and then get knocked out shortly afterwards, looked off-colour. Oscar Bravo, who was at least 50% of the difference between Mexico and Iran last Sunday, was having one of those “couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo” nights. Branco looked frankly astonished at the constant stream of chances that his team created, and then wasted. For a team that looked very good going forward against Iran, it was a surprise to see them being so wasteful.
For Angola, though, the opportunity is there. If they can beat Iran by two goals, and Portugal beat Mexico (which, on the basis of what we’ve seen so far, isn’t an entirely unforeseeable set of circumstances), then they’ll be on their way into the second round. Probably as Africa’s only qualifiers. For a team that amazed African football just by qualifying at the expense of Nigeria, that would be hell of a achievement. They’ll have to have a real go at Iran, though – and I’m not certain that they have the attacking options to do this. I think we’ll all be wishing them the best of luck, though.