I was fortunate enough to join Namibia’s national soccer team the Brave Warriors on a trip to Angola for a friendly match against their national side, the Palancas Negras. The match formed part of Angola’s seventh anniversary Peace Celebrations and was due to take place in the northern Angolan town of Dundo, about 20km from the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It turned out to be an unforgettable experience, but not quite as expected. For a start, the omens were certainly not good as a tired Namibian team arrived at Hosea Kutako International Airport on Friday afternoon after travelling for 24 hours from Beirut in Lebanon.
They had played Lebanon in a friendly drawing 1-all on Wednesday, April 1, then boarded a plane on Thursday, some to Qatar and some to Cairo, and then connected to Joburg and finally arrived in Namibia about 24 hours later.
Some team members had a short meeting with family and friends and then it was off travelling again – this time in a chartered plane to Luanda. Well ‘chartered’ sounds rather fancy, but the trip definitely wasn’t. It was a cramped little 30-seater with no leg space, while the light aircraft went through several unstable patches as the pilot tried to negotiate his way through lightning and thunder.
Coach Tom was certainly not amused, firstly with the late planning that thrust an unwanted friendly match upon him, but now worrying about whether he would survive the trip in one piece.
Our cabin crew assistant ensured us with his smattering of English that the trip would take three hours, but come the time, we were still far from our destination and it was only about an hour later that we finally arrived in Luanda.
On arrival the drama started as my passport was seized while I had to wait in a dingy little room, accompanied by cockroaches, for about 20 minutes until Luis Felipe from the Angolan Football Federation came to fetch me.
“There is a problem with your visa, they are keeping your passport here, but no problem, we will sort it out. You come with me now, I take you to your hotel.”
As Luis and I started running, a torrential downpour hit us in full force and by the time we reached his car we were both drenched. Luis took to driving like a seasoned pro, how he managed to avoid the endless traffic jams is beyond me, but he did and we arrived at our hotel about 15 minutes later. The team arrived a short while afterwards and after supper we all went to sleep, by now it was nearly midnight and we were all dead tired.
Saturday morning the drama continued. We were taken by bus to the airport but due to the traffic jams, the bus could not go the whole way and we ended up having to walk with our luggage in tow for the last few hundred metres to the airport. Imagine that – a national team dragging its luggage around in search of its plane.
We waited and waited, in the airport lounge, and at this stage a soccer match was the last thing on many of the players’ minds.
“These arrangements are terrible. How can we play a match under these circumstances,” a frustrated player told me. “If I’m provoked on the field I am going to retaliate,” a player told me.
I was finally informed that I didn’t have a valid visa for my stay in Angola and that I would not be able to accompany the team to Dundo for the match. Tim, the Brave Warriors’ manager insisted that he would stay with me but the Angolan Football Federation (FAF) came to my aid. They informed me that I was now their official guest and that they would organise an emergency travel document for me. While the Namibian delegation were still waiting in the departure lounge, I was taken away and once again had to wait in the dingy deportation room, while they sorted out my documents.
At this stage doubts started to cross my mind. Would they leave me here, would I still make the match, or would I remain stuck here in this room, in this strange country that I know nothing about, where hardly anyone speaks English? As these doubts started taking hold, I heard a plane take off – the Brave Warriors? and still I was waiting.
Eventually Luis appeared with my travel document - good old reliable Luis – and told me that I would now join the FAF delegation on a chartered plane to Dundo. Anna of FAF informed me that it would take a while to sort out my visa and that I would have to stay behind on Sunday when the Brave Warriors return to Namibia.
“But don’t worry, we will put you up in a hotel and look after you and send you back on another plane once your visa is sorted out,” she assured me.
What - will I now have to stay longer in this place and till when? On the one hand I was thankful for FAF’s help, but on the other, I just wanted to get out of this country and return to Namibia.
Well, we eventually boarded the plane and arrived in Dundo at about 14h00. I was taken to the Namibians’ hotel where FAF had also booked me in and I joined up with the team again.
Coach Tom invited me to join him and his players while he gave his team talk and what a talk it was! With several charts pasted on the board, he went through his tactics – “Keep the defensive lines intact, keep the zero behind and attack on the counter-attack” – and I could sense that he was inspiring the players.
“You are tired and haven’t had time to prepare. You will face a strong Angolan team, desperate for victory, in front of their own fanatical fans. But when you go onto that field, you must give your all for your country,” he beseeched them and when he had finished the players spontaneously applauded him.
The mood had lifted and when we arrived at the Sagrada Esperanca Stadium it increased several more degrees. The stadium was packed with singing and dancing Angolans, many waving Angolan flags, to celebrate the seventh anniversary of peace in their country.
What an amazing atmosphere! – it lifted us all, and when the match finally started at about 17h00 the Brave Warriors gave a fantastic performance. They defended superbly with Oliver Risser outstanding in central defence, while Quinton Jacobs gave a masterful performance in midfield, dictating play. Ninja Karongee also impressed with his high work rate and tough tackles and in attack Rudolph Bester and Wilko Risser battled it out with the Angolan defenders.
There were numerous chances on both sides with Namibian keeper Athiel Mbaha pulling off some fine saves, while Bester came the closest for Namibia shooting narrowly over the bar.
The fans enjoyed every moment, cheering wildly when Angola came close, while they also applauded Namibia for their good play. After an enthralling encounter and about six minutes of extra time the final whistle finally went with the score tied at 0-0 and both teams received a big ovation. What a game it was and what a performance by the Brave Warriors. To think that they had been flying virtually non-stop for about 48 and only arrived about three hours before their match, and then to put up such a performance was truly amazing.
NFA secretary general secretary Barry Rukoro was elated, saying it was one of the best performances he had ever seen by the Brave Warriors.
“For me it was one of the most interesting and wonderful matches that I have seen this team play. Taking into consideration that the team travelled for more than 24 hours and only arrived three hours before the start of the match, I must tell you that these were really very brave, brave Brave Warriors,” he said.
The next morning the team left on their chartered plane while I remained behind, returning a bit later with the FAF delegation to Luanda.
They put me up in Katjavalia Hotel in Luanda where the internet was faulty but I finally managed to put up the match report and photos on Namibia Sport’s website from the receptionist’s computer. The next day Edgar from FAF told me that I would leave at 11h00 on Tuesday. Another day in this place was not very exciting but at least the end was in sight.
On Tuesday Luis took me to the airport where another drama unfolded. "Wait here, I fetch your passport," Luis said. Well, I waited and waited and waited. With about 25 minutes remaining before the scheduled departure, Luis finally came running clutching my passport.
We departed at the final check in counter and my heart sunk when I saw another queue of at least 20 people in front of me. By now I was panicking, no one spoke English, the queues were endless and motionless and the time was ticking by. Somehow I managed to push my way to the front and after some frantic remonstrations I was finally through, about 5 minutes before departure.
But I need not have worried. When I made it onto the plane we waited and waited and waited and eventually only departed about 40 minutes later! Can you believe it – after all that drama, rushing to make it in time, but then the plane leaves 40 minutes late!
Well, I was very happy to return to Namibia but I have my doubts about Angola’s readiness for the 2010 African Cup of Nations. They will have to become much more punctual, while the existing infrastructure will have to be upgraded. The traffic is a nightmare and the streets are full of potholes. There are slums everywhere – out of my hotel window I looked down on a slum, inhabited by destitute people and half naked children. When you approach Luanda by air you see row upon row of slum shacks interspersed by dusty roads, as far as the eye can see.
How is it possible that so much poverty can exist, in such an oil-rich country, side by side, with their first world economy? But I also remember the affection of the people – the spontaneous singing and dancing people at the match and the helpful people from FAF. Luis, Anna and Edgar, who went out of their way to assist me – thank you guys, you made my stay memorable, and Angola will stay in my memory for a long time.