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22 Jan 2008 09:17
Thousands of kilometres separate Tamale Stadium in northern Ghana from Old Trafford in England.
But as Angola striker Mateus “Manucho” Goncalves prepares for an Africa Cup of Nations Group D first-round showdown with South Africa on Wednesday, Manchester United will inevitably be on his mind.
Manucho is heading for the Theatre of Dreams, provided he receives a work permit, and a good showing in the biennial African football showpiece can only enhance his chances.
The physically powerful Angolan signed a three-year contract recently after a trial with the English Premiership champions earned praise from Sir Alex Ferguson, never an easy manager to please.
“He is a tall, agile, quick forward who we had on trial for about three weeks and he did very well,” Ferguson said of the Petro Atletico star and leading scorer in the Angolan championship for the past two seasons.
“I think he will need a few months to adjust, but in saying that he has done very well in training and you never know how players will progress,” added Sir Alex.
Manucho is confident of clinching a work permit and realising his dream of joining the Red Devils, a collection of English and foreign stars he has supported since childhood in the Angolan capital Luanda.
“I adapted easily to the surroundings because all the players supported me, and Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and Anderson spoke my language [Portuguese],” Manucho recalled.
Angola launch their fourth Nations Cup challenge believing they can reach the quarterfinals for the first time, especially with Manucho available to support often lone striker Flavio Amado.
He plays for another group of Red Devils, five-time African champions Al-Ahly of Egypt, and the stocky 28-year-old is yearning for a move to Europe after two seasons with the Cairo club.
While Angola have been slowly climbing the Nations Cup escalator, it has been the opposite for South Africa since that glorious day in February 1996 when Nelson Mandela handed the trophy to Neil Tovey.
Goal difference deprived Angola of a place in the knockout phase two years ago in Egypt while ill-prepared Bafana failed to collect a point or score a goal.
Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira appeared to have one eye on the 2010 World Cup to be hosted by South Africa when he named a squad lacking several long-serving campaigners, including star striker Benni McCarthy.
While much has been made of McCarthy, the absence of Russia-based midfielder Macbeth Sibaya could be equally hard felt as ball-winners are in desperately short supply.
Parreira, who led his native Brazil to 1994 World Cup glory, may continue an experiment of using defender and captain Aaron Mokoena in the defensive midfield role where Blackburn Rovers deploy him.
With Senegal and 2004 champions Tunisia to come, this is a game neither team dare lose and tradition suggests a tight tussle with South Africa scoring the only goal of two previous Nations Cup meetings.—AFP
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