Former Angola captain, Fabrice Alcebiades Maieco â€œAkwaâ€ has expressed optimism in his countryâ€™s ability to host a successful tournament next year. Akwa, undoubtedly the most famous Angolan footballer of his generation talks exclusively to www.cafonline.com, about the Orange Africa Cup of Nations, Angola 2010, his career and life after football.
How do you feel with Angola as hosts of next yearâ€™s Orange Africa Cup of Nations?
I am extremely happy about that since it is the wish of every country to host such an event, and Angola is no exception. Also, am excited with the fact the country will be having four new stadia besides the renovation of 13 others.
This package is big boost to improving sports infrastructure across the country. My hope is a successful tournament and I believe the Government has invested hugely in that regard.
What impact will the hosting of the Orange Africa Cup of Nations bring to bear on Angola?
Akwa :First of all, I think Angola is being paid back. The hosting of the tournament has led to a drasticÂ Â development of infrastructure, construction of hotels, expanded telecommunications and more significantly it will enhance tourism.
This is the best opportunity to showcase Angola to the rest of the world as well as interact and exchange ideas and culture with people from various backgrounds.
What went through your mind when you were called upon to assist in the draw for the Orange Africa Cup of Nations, Angola 2010?
It was a great honour and I was very elated. That alone was some form of recognition for all I achieved throughout my career. There can be no better form of recognition than being part of official draw for the flagship event in African football.
It was also a great moment to have shared the stage with former Internationals; Rui Clington, Ndunguidi Daniel and Joaquin Diniz.
What do you make of the groupings?
All the teams are strong and there is no easy group. For instance, Group B which has Cote dâ€™Ivoire and Ghana, who have both qualified for the World Cup. A slip by either side will greatly affect their chances as Togo also has a strong squad and so is Burkina Faso.
For Angolaâ€™s group (Group A), it wonâ€™t come easy despite the fact that we will be playing at home. Algeria are very motivated having qualified for the World Cup whilst Mali are in a class of their own. I still have memories of a 4_0 thrashing they handed us in France few years ago. The Angolan team must give off its best and advancing past the group stage will be crucial.
If you are pushed to the wall, which will you pick as favourites?
As an Angolan, I would love to see the Palancas Negras win it but that wonâ€™t come easy. Defending champions Egypt, Cameroon, Ghana and Cote dâ€™Ivoire have strong teams, and I think the winner is within this four teams.
Do you think Angola has a team capable of winning the ultimate?
After the exit of key players including myself, JoÃ£o Ricardo (goalkeeper) and Paulo Figueiredo (midfielder) through retirement, the team has experienced a dip in form. The team has failed to climb to the level as during the World Cup in 2006.
What has worsened their plight is the inability to reach the final round of the 2010 World Cup/Orange Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. There were also difficulties in finding tough opponents for friendlies and it affected the teamâ€™s pace. Following Jose Manuelâ€™s appointment, much is being done towards raising a formidable squad for the tournament.
From the Angola current squad, who do you think can step in your â€˜bigâ€™ shoes?
It is always very hard to find a similar player in different generations. You can get a look_alike but not exactly the same. Flavio has performed creditably well as a team leader and striker, and should fit in such comparison.
What have you being doing since you hanged up your boots?
Akwa :After retiring, I switched to politics and am now a Member of Parliament (MP) for the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). My bid was from the national circle. In Parliament, I served on the committees of
Youth and Sports, Culture, Media, Science and Technology, Education and Religious Affairs.
Iâ€™m also into charity work and in partnership with Ridge Solutions (a Luanda_based NGO); we seek to encourage homeless and street children on the importance of Education. We urge, advice and provide educational needs to build on their capacities as well as get them off street crimes, drug addiction among others.
Football and now politics; how was the transition?
Not that easy. Iâ€™m only performing my function as a role model and my popularity serves a positive factor. I have become an example for most Angolan youths, and I help to make them believe they can become better Akwaâ€™s in future.
What was the memorable moment of your career?
It was on October 8, 2005 at the Amahoro Stadium in Kigali, when I headed a late winner from Ze Kalangaâ€™s cross against Rwanda with eight minutes remaining and that ensured our qualification to the Germany 2006 World Cup. At the same time, Nigeria was leading Zimbabwe in Lagos and we needed a win to go through. There were mixed emotions not for me personally, but the whole of Angola. It was a national pride as the people needed some form of happiness after decades of war.
Any regrettable moment?
That was during my stint with Benfica in Portugal. They were not visionary to notice that I could become a promising player. I signed a four year contract with them in 1994 with an option for two years. They never noticed my potential and loaned me out. Despite my superb performances on loan, it wasnâ€™t enough to earn me a recall to Benfica.
Do you think you achieved all during your career?
Absolutely not! Inspite of successes with the national team and recognition across Africa, my inability to perform in Europe hurts me most. I feel I havenâ€™t achieved all since it is considered a must for every player to have performed with the best clubs, of which most of them are in Europe.
Also, my inability to have scored at the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations on three occasions in 1996 (South Africa), 1998 (Burkina Faso) and 2006 (Egypt) equally hurts. In 1996 and 1998, I was injured after the first games but in 2006, I featured in all three matches and failed to score. Those were the missing elements in my career.
How did it all start?
I started like every footballer playing in my neighbourhood (Benguela). After stints with a local youth team, I joined Nacional Benguela and that was the time, the club dominated Angolan football. I earned my first national call, with the U-16 team in a friendly against Portugal in 1992, and scored twice.
Two years later, I scored six times in six games for the Angolan U-20 team during the qualifiers for the African Youth Championship (Nigeria 1995), but we lost to Cameroon 5-4 on aggregate at the last stage. I made my senior debut on January 8, 1995 against Mozambique and scored my first goal in a 3-0 win against Guinea. In all, I scored 38 goals in 80 games from 1995 â€“ 2006.