There will surely be no need for Angola coach Manuel Jose to give a long motivational speech before his side’s contest against Ghana Sunday in the quarter-finals of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
The tournament hosts should find all of the inspiration they need from a packed and deafening 11 November Stadium in Luanda and an entire country fully behind them. And as captain Kali said on Saturday, the team are viewing the match as “probably the most important game” in the country’s history.
While he knows that playing at home in a tournament of this magnitude is often a double-edged sword, the Angolan skipper is aware that the riches of a first-ever place in a continental final are just two victories away.
Snatching a star from the sky
But before they can dream about such highlights on home soil, there will be deep rivers to cross and mountains to climb – one of which is surely tomorrow’s clash against four-time continental champions and 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers Ghana.
“We are aware that our people want results, and that means a lot of pressure on our shoulders, but we are ready for that,” declared Kali, who made his international debut in the unsuccessful qualifying campaign for the 2004 Cup of Nations. “We are motivated, we have been thinking about this game for a long time now. It's going to be a big match, but we are ready for it. This is an important game for us because it is an important game for the people of Angola.”
While football pundits are no doubt having trouble looking beyond a Black Stars triumph, the West Africans have been beset by injuries and are missing talismanic midfielder Michael Essien. However, an exciting new generation of Ghanaians is emerging, and they will be eager to set the record straight after their 3-1 defeat to Côte d'Ivoire and 1-0 win over Burkina Faso in Group B.
Kali, who previously played his club football in Switzerland but is currently looking for a new home, says Angola are wary of the Ghanaians but sure that the “best possible” result will happen, which uiltimately will help his country's stature.
"Ghana are on the world football map, and Angola want to climb higher to be considered the same," he explained. "We respect them, they are a good side, but this competition is way too big. A lot is at stake here.
"We as players have realised what it means for this country, what it means for our people. I think we will play with our hearts and hope to do well. It is not going to be easy playing against an organised side like them, but we have to show character and be motivated to win.”
Angolans “want results”
Coach Manuel Jose predicted that Ghana would “come hard” at his team in order to throw them off at home, but he believes that the Black Antelopes have achieved an important status at the tournament. Angola won Group A without losing a match, drawing with Mali so memorably 4-4 in the opening match before beating Malawi and grinding out a scoreless draw with Algeria.
“When a team is playing at home, normally what people want is for that team to reach the finals," he said. “But to go to the finals, we must win matches, we must play good football and we must be a solid team. And I think that’s what we’ve become.”
But the coach comes back to the pressure and passion of the home support, which has achieved staggering levels of volume in the capital’s new stadium.
“Ghana is a very organised team, they are very good,” he explained. “But if you go along the streets here, you will find that emotions are very high. We have all the people in Angola behind this team... and they want results.”
If Angolans get their wish, they will face the winner of Monday's Zambia v. Nigeria quarter-final. Also on Sunday, Côte d'Ivoire will face Algeria in Cabinda, while Egypt take on Cameroon in Benguela on Monday.