Six years ago, when Angola sealed a berth at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, the then 15-year-old Jose Pierre Vunguidica had two very good reasons to celebrate.
On the one hand, it rated as a truly historic moment, as it was the first time the African hopefuls had qualified for the global showpiece. And on the other, it meant the Black Antelopes would contest the FIFA World Cup in the country which the Luanda-born striker has called home since he was two years old.
“Watching my own national team close up was a fantastic experience. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go to the stadium for any of their matches, but I obviously saw every minute on TV," Vunguidica recalls. “Competing at a World Cup was definitely the biggest event in Angola's footballing history. And it certainly also meant a lot more attention was paid to football in Angola from then on."
Through to CAN 2012
Up to that point, basketball was the undisputed number-one sport in the nation located in the south-west of the continent. “But in the meantime, football has become just as popular. The game got a real boost from the World Cup."
The welcome impetus was magnified in 2010 by Angola staging the CAF African Cup of Nations for the first time, where the hosts made it as far as the quarter-finals. Vunguidica was still a spectator at the time, but all that has changed now. The striker has nine international appearances to his name, helping the nation ranked 84th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking to a place at the 2012 Cup of Nations.
My dream is the World Cup, but for now I'm focused on the present.
“Qualifying didn't go very well at first, so we ended up needing to win our remaining matches – and that's what we did. It's a fantastic moment when you realise all your efforts have paid off. Obviously, we're overjoyed about qualifying, and a big tournament like this is a huge chance for me personally as well. We're thrilled to be part of it and hope to shine once we're there. In normal circumstances, I'll be in the squad."
International in division three
The reason why Vunguidica has been restricted to nine caps so far is largely because his current role is to understudy Angola’s biggest footballing star, Porto hit-man Djalma. “It's a huge challenge for me, but I give everything I’ve got in every training session. I'm hoping to become a regular over the next few years, although I know I'll have to wait for my chance."
The likeable goal-getter is in a similar position at club level. He joined Bundesliga outfit Cologne as a youth, making his German top-flight debut a year or so ago. “It was magnificent and something you don't forget in a hurry," he smiled. However, he is also an understudy in the Rhineland metropolis, where home-grown superstar Lukas Podolski is guaranteed a starting berth when fit. “He's a completely normal guy who shuns the trappings of stardom. He's given me and the other young players plenty of advice and helped us improve. I hope that carries on next season."
At the moment, the player simply nicknamed Joe is away from Cologne on a second consecutive loan spell. He left Kickers Offenbach in the summer and hooked up with promoted third division outfit Preussen Munster. “I have no problem with the contrast between the third division and the national team. I guess we get an average of 6,000 people watching us in Munster, whereas Angola are watched by 30 or 40,000. Obviously, the atmosphere is completely different, but I always prepare in exactly the same way.”
Brazil within reach
Angola’s immediate target is to match or improve on their 2010 performance and make it to the quarter-finals in January and February next year, perhaps with Vunguidica's first goal in national colours. The player freely describes himself as a typical Cologne lad, but a long career for the Black Antelopes appears a near certainty. In turn, it would bring one of his greatest dreams closer to reality, playing at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
“It's absolutely realistic," he declared, assessing a group including Senegal and Uganda. “We saw a handful of the big teams come up short in qualifying for the Cup of Nations. The teams aren't as far apart as they used to be, and I think we can take on and beat the likes of Senegal nowadays. My dream is the World Cup, but for now I'm focused on the present."