Four hundred years of hurt were never going to be assuaged by one football match, and Angola could not muster one of the great World Cup shocks by beating, or even holding, their former colonial power here in Group D last night. But they did the next best thing, shrugging off an ominously early goal by Pauleta to take Portugal to the wire.
The man who broke Eusebio's scoring record for Portugal took his tally of international goals to 44 with a sharply taken strike with less than four minutes played. After that the contest was surprisingly even, and the sight of Luiz Felipe Scolari standing with hands on hips, urging Pauleta and his colleagues to renewed efforts in the closing minutes, was a tribute to the Africans' gutsy, if at times naive, performance.
Scolari, who turned down the chance to become Sven Goran Eriksson's successor with England, was not the only one to sense that the match had not gone according to script. Derisive whistling possibly by Germans suggested some spectators felt they had been complacent. Meanwhile, the Angolan contingent were joined by locals and other neutrals in chants of "An-go-la! An-go-la!" which had echoes of North Korea whipping Goodison into a frenzy of "Ko-re-a! Ko-re-a!" in 1966.
Luis Oliveira Goncalves, the Angola coach, was justifiably "proud" of his team, "especially what we did in the second half". He added: "If we keep that spirit, I'm sure we can complicate life for Mexico in our next game." Scolari reasoned that a winning start was all-important. "In our second game we are playing a team that has just lost [Iran]," the Brazilian said. "If we win that, we'll go through."
Small rainforests in Finland had been given over to explaining the political and military sub-text to this match. The 400 years of colonial exploitation of Angola by Portugal, which ended only 31 years ago, was not the only history on the minds of some fans. One banner, referring to Portugal's conquerors in the final of Euro 2004, gloatingly enquired: "Greece where are you now? Defensive football go home."
Goncalves had stated that the first objective was "to uphold the dignity of Angola and Africa". In his heart of hearts he was probably adding "and avoid conceding an early goal", but that proved beyond them.
It could have been worse. Inside the opening 10 seconds, a through-ball by Simao Sabrosa found Pauleta haring through the inside-left channel. His angled shot missed the far corner of the net by inches.
When the goal did come, it was embarrassingly simple for Portugal. An Angola free-kick, hoofed upfield from near their goal line, was headed by Tiago straight to the unmarked Luis Figo. The last of the golden generation had too much pace, even at 33, for Jamba, pushing the ball past him and crossing low from the left. Pauleta, who did not score during Euro 2004, clinically turned the ball in.
Even as Fifa statisticians checked for record winning margins, Angola regrouped with resilience and clawed their way back into the match. Akwa, who was on Benfica's books as a teenager but is now listed as "no club affiliation", twice attempted dramatic overhead kicks, once missing the ball completely and the second time firing over.
Andre also forced a one-handed save by Ricardo as half-time approached. Athough Cristiano Ronaldo had earlier headed Figo's corner against the bar, his tendency to over-elaborate often caused momentum to be lost and the first half ended on a higher note for Angola than it had begun.
With Figo dropping ever deeper in search of space to play, Angola's confidence was boosted by some feisty challenges by Figueiredo. A white player from Portugal's second division, he was born in Angola of Portuguese parents who fled after independence in 1975.
Until Figo faded, Pauleta had received sufficient support from midfield to avoid becoming isolated. A quick shot on the turn, well saved by Joao Ricardo, underlined why Scolari prefers the much-maligned forward to Nuno Gomes. Goncalves, by contrast, sent out Akwa to forage on his own, and he was eventually withdrawn.
The Portuguese fans, who outnumbered their African counterparts, grew increasingly restless as their team toiled to break down Angola. They dominated possession, which meant a lot of energy-sapping chasing and harrying for their opponents, but there were few obvious signs of the underdogs tiring and the game becoming stretched.
Scoring chances were at a premium in the second half, although the splendidly named Loco did have a chance to test Ricardo with 20 minutes remaining. A wild swing sent the ball spiralling into the crowd, and Angola had to be content with an honourable defeat.
Substitutes used: Angola Mantorras for Akwa, 60; Edson for Ze Kalanga, 70; Miloy for Figueiredo, 80; Portugal Costinha for Ronaldo, 60; Maniche for Petit, 72; Viana for Tiago, 83.
Referee: J Larrionda (Uruguay).
Man of the match: Figueiredo.Reuse content