As we climbed the stairs of the bus, nervously clutching our rucksack, PUMA Football spotted a familiar face: Angola star and former Manchester United prodigy, Manucho. “Congratulations!” we offered enthusiastically, unable to shake the feeling we were the new boy and he was the coolest kid in school. “Con-grat-u-lashons,” responded the giant striker lazily mocking us. OK, that wasn’t quite the open-armed welcome we were hoping for.
Clearly the young forward was tired after the game so we stumbled through the gloom of the bus to see if we could find ourselves a seat. Trying desperately not to trip over one player’s injured and ice-packed leg stuck out in the aisle, PUMA Football plonked itself down into an empty seat and looked around for friendly faces. Pedro the kitman offered us a reassuring grin, skipper Kali gave us a friendly wink and then, with the coach’s interior lit up by the flashing blue lights of the police convoy, the bus eased out of the stadium towards the team hotel.
How surreal it was to be on the inside of the footballers’ fishbowl, for once looking out rather than struggling to peer in. PUMAFootball could see hundred of fans in the streets cheering the team on yet hermetically sealed behind bullet proof windows we could hear nothing but the coach stereo’s calming samba rhythms. In the front of the bus, the manager Manuel Jose sat alone reading his newspaper, while behind us players laughed, joked and muttered on the phone to their loved ones.
The atmosphere was relaxed but this was certainly no party. Angola clearly don’t see their role at the African Cup of Nations as merely hosts. They intend to win the competition. Next up they face Ghana on Sunday and a victory would see them reach the semi-finals of the tournament for the first time in history. Only then might the players be tempted to get as excited as their fans. Until that point though it’s back to work for team Angola and it’s back to walking for PUMA Football.