Keeping two feet firmly on the ground will have been the clear message from Lito Vidigal to his victorious Angola players following their opening CAF Africa Cup of Nations match on Sunday.
Pragmatism has been at the forefront of the young coach’s approach to the game, and it is not likely to have diverted after a 2-1 win over Burkina Faso in Malabo. Second-half goals from Mateus and Manucho handed a perfect start to the Palancas Negras, who are seeking to advance to the last eight of the tournament for the third time in succession.
Beating the team that is expected to push them for second in Group B - with most picking also victorious Côte d’Ivoire to top the section - has naturally led to a surge of enthusiasm for their chances of advancing. Vidigal, however, does not want the quest for a quarter-final place to immediately become a burden of expectation. “We must not be intimidated by history,” he warned.
So while he hailed his team as “hard working and fantastic”, he also praised their ability stay “humble” as they turn their eyes to Sudan in the next contest. The priority, according to the former international, is to keep focusing on themselves in order to produce a “competitive team that will play well and that has the ability to write its own story. We must be realistic about our ambitions. There are a lot of teams with a much better track record and list of achievements at the Nations Cup than us, and therefore it is important to put it all in perspective.”
But while that might sound a little cautionary from the 42-year-old, Vidigal insists he is hungry for success and that the weekend's win was just a stepping stone. “I do not lack ambition,” he said. “I will always fight for victory, but for that you need to be aware of the realities. We have already achieved great success together in qualifying for the finals, but now we want more.”
My players were fantastic and diligent in all dimensions. I congratulate them for what they have been doing to dignify the flag of all Angolans.
Born in Angola, Vidigal left the country with his family as a toddler for Portugal, but came back to play for the Antelopes at the Cup of Nations in 1996, featuring prominently for them during their debut tournament in South Africa.
His younger brother Jose Luis played for Portugal at the UEFA EURO 2000, ensuring a family with a unique status in world football. Lito went into coaching after his playing days came to an end, and when he took over at Portuguese club Uniao Leiria he became the first African international to take charge of a club in the top flight of a major European league.
Anxious for more success after qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ and making a historic impact on the continent, Angola parachuted him in to lead the team in the qualifiers this time last year after a run of different coaches proved unsuccessful. It turned out to be an inspired choice, and within a month Vidigal took a team of home-based players to the runners-up berth at the African Nations Championship, the new tournament for players at clubs on the African continent only.
They also won their last three CAN qualifiers to pip front-running Uganda to a spot in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, which showed that the relationship between coach and his players had the potential to produce a winning combination. For that reason, Vidigal has tried to play down expectations, while insisting his team has the ability to find glory.
“I’m ambitious and I want my players to accompany me with the same ambition to win,” he added, before admitting that they had been inspired against the Burkinabe: “My players were fantastic and diligent in all dimensions. I congratulate them for what they have been doing to dignify the flag of all Angolans.”