Home 2006 – Puma
Situated along the Atlantic coast of Southern Africa, the former Portuguese colony of Angola won its independence relatively recently in 1975. Unfortunately the country was immediately stung in a messy divorce settlement whereby Portugal made off with all the living standards, good wine and custody of all the decent footballers leaving the Angolans just half the life expectancy, all the poverty and, worst of all, the Cliff Richard cds.
Today the country is best known for having immense mineral wealth, stunning diamonds and vast oil reserves, and also for enduring the kind of protracted, bloody civil war you would expect from an African nation, especially one that has immense mineral wealth, stunning diamonds and vast oil reserves.
Owing to that 27 year conflict (1975-2002) Angola has accumulated quite the collection of landmines – more than any other nation on the planet in fact – leaving huge swaths of land as no go areas, hindering the rebuilding process immeasurably and adding a much needed dash of excitement to every game of hopscotch. According to UN statistics, despite concerted efforts to clear the fields, it’s estimated that by Christmas this year the country will still have one landmine for every Angolan child, which seems a tad harsh, I mean, what’s wrong with a board game and some Lego?
Perhaps sadder still has been the fate of Angola’s once rich wildlife. Formerly teeming with exotic species, the nation’s vast national parks are now largely bereft of animals after the starving masses who fled the cities to escape the conflict were forced to snack on whatever creatures – endangered or otherwise – they could find. “How do you like your Aardvark, Fernando? Medium? Well done?”
Cobbling together any sort of national team in such trying circumstances should be considered pretty good going, so Angola’s shock qualification for the 2006 World Cup finals must surely therefore rank as one of the true fairy tales of the international game, particularly as their berth came at the expense of African footballing behemoths Nigeria whom they pipped on head to head results.* Their performances in Germany weren’t too shabby either. A narrow 1-0 loss to former colonial masters Portugal preceded a spirited set of draws with Mexico (0-0) and Iran (1-1), sending the team home early but certainly not via the embarrassing whitewash many outsiders had predicted.
In fact the mid to late noughties proved something of a golden era for Angolan football, with the national team qualifying for three successive African Cup Of Nations tournaments between 2006 and 2010, making the quarter finals for the first time in 2008. Two years later the country played host for the 2010 edition and again reached the last eight, this despite a quite farcical opening game against Mali in which Angola lead 4-0 with just 11 minutes remaining and somehow contrived to collapse to a 4-4 draw. Side note; there is an unsubstantiated rumour circling the internet that a student lumped his entire £4,400 loan on an Angola victory with the score at 4-0 in order to win a paltry £44 profit, but instead lost the lot. Shouldn’t laugh but……
*In these respects there was an element of good fortune to Angola’s qualification as this was the first, and so far only World Cup to utilise head to head over goal difference. Had they kept the traditional method Nigeria’s +14 would have easily seen them through over Angola’s +6.
By 2006 Puma pretty much had the market cornered in African national teams including all five of the continent’s participants at Germany 2006. Around this period the designers had developed a fondness for weaving imagery of Africa’s mighty, majestic national animals into the shirts as appropriate i.e. elephant for Ivory Coast, lion for Cameroon etc. However the Angolan sable antelope (a species endemic to the country, at least it was until they were all chucked on the barbecue) is conspicuous by its absence aside from a cameo on the badge, an even then the cartoonish font gives the impression that they slapped the creature over the Thundercats logo and gave it a Rastafarian makeover.
Working on the assumption that a chilled out deer with a hankering for some cheesy wotsits probably wasn’t going to strike much fear into opposition hearts, Puma instead retained the team’s traditional yellow and black bands as the shirt’s centrepiece, seamlessly blending them into a sleek, modern design. Given that Angola have largely slid away from Africa’s top table since those heady days, 2006 may well stand in history as the country’s one and only World Cup adventure. At least they looked the part.