Having played two games at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, Angola has earned just one point thus far, and the Palancas Negras have their work cut out for them if they want to extend their stay in South Africa beyond the group stage.
However, team captain and star striker, Alberto Mateus Contreiras, commonly known as Manucho, says the team remains upbeat and are drawing surprising inspiration from Sudan’s performance last year. "At the last AFCON finals in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, Sudan found themselves in a similar situation: after two matches they had just one point," he explained after their 2-0 defeat to South Africa on Wednesday.
"But they were the team that joined Côte d’Ivoire in the next round, going through with four points after beating Burkina Faso in their last game. We went home with four points after losing our final game against Côte d’Ivoire. So we are hoping that history can repeat itself, but this time with us going through."
Cape Verde's 1-1 draw against Morocco in Wednesday's second Group A match means that Angola are no longer in a position to advance to the next round without results going their way Sunday's matchday.
But to stand any chance of going through, they need to win their next game. Manucho, who is playing in his fourth AFCON finals - having scored eight goals previously - is aware that their final Group A contest against Cape Verde's Blue Sharks will be anything but easy. "We just have to try to put the South Africa game behind us and focus for the next match. I am sure this will be a difficult match because Cape Verde has proven to be a good side."
The striker, who spent several seasons on Manchester United's books, but saw very little playing time with the English giants, said he was disappointed with his side's performance against Bafana Bafana, who won through Siyabonga Sangweni's first half strike and substitute Lehlohonolo Majoro's goal on the hour. "We took too long to come into the game. South Africa went forward and by the time we finally started putting some pressure on them, it was too late."
Now playing his club football for Real Valladolid in Spain's La Liga, Manucho believes that playing the game in a near-capacity 56,000-person Moses Mabhida Stadium, which was built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, helped the hosts to take the match to the Antelopes, who did little in resistance. "The huge crowd really got behind the team, and we did not get any of the breaks as often happens in these matches."
Pressure as a striker
The 29-year-old, whose father, Alberto Goncalves, was one of his first coaches at his youth club in Angola's capital Luanda, was tightly marked by the South African defence throughout the 90 minutes and had just one real chance, when Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune did well to save his powerful header late in the game
But the big striker says he is feeling no extra nerves despite Angola's two scoreless outings. "As a goal-scorer it is normal that there is always a lot of pressure on me. I am used to that, and I simply have to deal with it. Every team wants to mark the other side's scorer out of the game."
In 2006, the Palancas Negras had a fairytale journey all the way to the finals of the FIFA World Cup in Germany. Having only just escaped the horror of a civil war, Angola's appearance in the mundial - where they drew against Mexico and Iran and lost to their erstwhile colonisers Portugal - was very much a 'Cinderella story'.
Although they have been ever-present at the AFCON finals since then, they have never quite reached the heights that many believed they could after their FIFA World Cup appearance. Overall, this is Angola's seventh time at the continental championships, but only twice have they gone further than the group stages - in 2008 and 2010 as hosts - and there has been little to suggest that a third quarter-final appearance is on the cards.
Manucho though, is not surprised it has taken the team some time to adjust to the competition. "In 2006 we had a lot of experienced players, most of whom have since retired. This time around, that is not the case. We have a young side that is undergoing a rejuvenation process. Many of these young players are playing in the tournament for the first time. It is quite normal that they will stumble now and then,” he explained.
But whilst the side might have stumbled, they remain in the race and with that can continue dreaming of a second appearance on the global stage, perhaps even as AFCON winners, who qualify for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil this summer.