My 2006: Luis Oliveira Goncalves
For Angola coach Luis Oliveira Goncalves, 2006 will always be remembered as the year he led his side to an historic first appearance at the finals of the FIFA World Cup™ .
After spells in charge of several Angolan clubs, Goncalves, or 'the Professor', as he is universally known, was appointed coach of the country's U-20s, who he led to victory at the 2001 African Youth Championship and to a last-eight finish at the FIFA World Youth Championship later that year in Argentina .
The 46-year-old coach, who took the reins of the senior team in late 2003, is renowned for his obsession with tactics and strategic formations, and his ability to make a virtue of necessity. With no stand-out individual stars in his line-up, the coach has worked wonders by placing the emphasis on hard work, concentration and team spirit.
My 2006: Oliveira Goncalves
As you would expect, the highlight of the year for me was when Angola ensured an historic first participation at the finals of the FIFA World Cup™. Everything we subsequently did in 2006 revolved around the unique opportunity we had secured for ourselves (in our final qualifier) in Rwanda.
Angola's participation at Germany 2006 also became my main source of motivation and direction this year. There has been a great sense of unity here, and the squad worked diligently and with tremendous focus to be ready for such an important occasion. I'd go so far as to say that, in the early part of the year, we thought of nothing else. Even after the finals, we kept on working, happy in the knowledge that we'd done excellently in Germany. Therefore, you could say that in 2006, it was all about the World Cup.
Yes, it's true that we didn't win the World Cup, but then it's also true that this was never our expectation heading into the tournament. Even though we had to deal with a great many difficulties, I'm proud to say that we survived the darkest days and showed we could handle moments of high tension and compete with teams ranked well above us in the world rankings.
Professionally, the year has gone really well. On a personal level, I should also add that I was overjoyed with the academic progress of two of my children, who earned degrees in Business Management in London and the Agostino Neto University in Luanda.
In 2006, I saw quite a few games that I really enjoyed, two of which were in Germany. Firstly there was our tremendous struggle with Mexico, which proved that our great performance against Portugal on our debut had been no fluke. The second one was the World Cup Final itself, which completely enthralled me. Italy and France served up a truly exceptional encounter despite the fact that both sides were suffering from fatigue. It was also a pleasure to watch Barcelona and Chelsea during their last Champions League meeting. I was particularly impressed with the performance of two players who I personally feel are the best in the world: the Brazilian magician Ronaldinho, and the Cote d'Ivoire captain Didier Drogba, a player who has become a star of the highest order.
If I had to nominate the three best players in the world, then it would unquestionably be Ronaldinho, Drogba and Zidane, in that order. I have the utmost respect for Italy's World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro, but I personally believe that those three players encapsulate footballing perfection in its purest sense.
Getting back to this summer's finals, it feels like only yesterday that we were preparing to make our Germany 2006 debut against our Portuguese 'cousins'. Prior to that game, Angola's previous encounters with Portugal had been disastrous (one 6-0 defeat and another that was abandoned because of too many sendings-off while 5-1 behind). Therefore, on the eve of the game, the team were very nervous. That said, once we got over those difficult first few minutes, everyone could see that Angola were no pushovers, and in the second half, we even had our opponents on the back foot at times. I think that was the most exciting moment of all, as we knew that back home everyone was glued to their TV screens, and that made us immensely proud. It was a truly unforgettable moment.
As for the youngsters at Germany 2006, there is a talented new generation of players coming through who will very soon will be ready to really deliver at international level. I find it hard to single out individual players, but I have been especially impressed by Cristiano Ronaldo, Robinho, (Lukas) Podolski and our own Ze Kalanga.
I'm no clairvoyant and making predictions is always tricky, but I'm very confident about the future. I believe Angolan football is experiencing a very significant growth and that this will continue in 2007.The infrastructure is improving, as well as the management of clubs and the national association. Furthermore, in just a few years' time (2010) Angola will host the African Cup of Nations, which means everything needs to be in perfect shape by then. We're confident we can also qualify for the next FIFA World Cup (also in 2010), which, as you all know, will be celebrated for the first time on African soil. We're confident we'll be there and performing excellently as well. Until then, I'd like to wish everyone a healthy and peaceful 2007, and once again thank FIFA and Germany for the wonderful welcome and the experiences of this summer, which will live long in the memories of all Angolans.