Angola head for home with pride intact

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For 15 delectable minutes, the dream was on. Angola were leading in Leipzig while, in Gelsenkirchen, Mexico were a goal and a man down.

Then Sohrab Bakhtiarizadeh glanced a deft 75th-minute header into João Ricardo’s net and we came to our senses as Angola and Iran moved to a 1-1 draw. There was to be no second-round miracle for the World Cup debutants from southern Africa. But Luís de Oliveira Goncalves’ men have put Angolan football on the map.

What is more we shall miss them. True, they haven’t played the prettiest football, but they have been the best drilled of the African sides here and they will tackle and run all day.

And those names! This is one department where they have fellow Portuguese speakers Fred, Kaká and the rest of the Brazilian stars licked. They would have been dancing in the streets of Luanda last night, but with Love, Mateus, Locó, Lebo Lebo and Andre Titi Buengo all present in the Zentralstadion, we had the ingredients for a splendid party right here.

Iran started strongly and had far more of the play in the opening quarter, working a series of openings with their intricate passing movements.

Midway through the half, they should have made their superiority tell. Ali Daei, the captain, restored to the starting line-up as one of three changes from the team beaten 2-0 by Portugal, missed an absolute sitter. Though he has been playing since approximately the paleolithic era, the first footballer to score 100 goals in internationals can rarely have fluffed an easier chance.

But, as the word from Gelsenkirchen came through that Portugal were fulfilling their side of the bargain, Angola seemed encouraged and began to create chances of their own with their direct, hard-running style. The impressive Mendonça and Miloy started to boss the midfield and captain Akwá began to find his range.

It was substitute Love, on for the injured Mateus, who came closest to breaking the deadlock just before half-time, having a fierce shot on the turn deflected behind by Ebrahim Mirzapour in the Iranian goal.

With Iranian stamina suspect, you always felt that Angola had it in them to make the Mexicans sweat. And so it proved: a superb long cross from the right by Ze Kalanga on the hour mark picked out the unmarked Flavio and the Al Ahly striker coolly picked his spot with a textbook header.

After Bakhtiarizadeh’s equaliser both sides had chances to win it, with Angola keeping three men up the field at all times. In the end, though, the draw – and the full-blooded way in which it was achieved – meant both these teams can head for home with some pride.

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