Angola's profile has risen remarkably in recent years, the Palancas Negras ditching their reputation as one of African football's middle-ranked powers to become one of the continent's leading lights. This was achieved largely thanks to their surprise qualification for the 2006 FIFA World Cup ™ finals in Germany at the expense of superpower Nigeria, a feat that saw Angola move into new and exalted company.
Now as a new FIFA World Cup cycle begins, Angola's ability to maintain this new-found status will come under the spotlight. However, if the last year of competition is anything go by, it would seem the Palancas Negras are here to stay. Angola certainly swept effortlessly through their CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifying group to reach the finals for a second successive tournament.
There have been few changes since Germany 2006, save for the notable exception of coach Luis Goncalves' departure in October 2008. The international career of striker Akwa, who is both Angola's most capped international and top goalscorer, has also come to an end and Angola have not been able to use the talent of former teenage prodigy Mantorras, who plays for Benfica in Portugal. He still battles with a knee injury that has hampered the career and kept him out of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana.
The absence of Akwa and Mantorras have served to catapult Flavio - who stars for the all-conquering Egyptians giants Al Ahly - to the forefront of the Angolan attack. Flavio was, of course, the scorer of the only Angolan goal at the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals.
The Palancas Negras might not have made it past the first round in Germany but they emerged with pride very much intact having suffered just a single defeat, losing 1-0 in an emotive game against former colonial power Portugal. Subsequent draws with Iran and Mexico confounded the critics who had suggested they would be found out of their depth at the world showpiece.
Angola continue to utilise their football team in a bid to also change the country's image. As Akwa said before Germany 2006: "We have proved Angola is not just about oil, war and poverty." Peace is now allowing the restoration of the nation's infrastructure and Angola are also preparing to host the 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. The tournament will come just six months before the FIFA World Cup finals are hosted in Africa for the first time, in South Africa.