On course for a stunning 4-0 victory over Mali, seeded almost 50 places ahead of them in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, the prevailing emotion in 11 de Novembre National Stadium was one of jubilation. But the soaring Angolans were about to be brought down to earth with a hefty bump.
A Flavio brace either side of half-time, followed by penalties from Gilberto and then Manucho, had seemingly wrapped up the perfect start to the tournament with just over a quarter of an hour left of normal time. In a disjointed game it was passion and energy that had seen Angola charge almost out of sight and on course to just their third ever win at the finals.
“This is one of the most bitter pills I've ever had to swallow in all the matches of my long career.”
Angola coach Manuel Jose
It was not until less than 120 seconds were on the clock when Freddy Kanoute's astounding header from near the penalty spot cut the lead to just two, but the home fans could surely not have been fearing the worst. Even when Keita drifted free from a now-ramshackle Angola defence to volley in during the 93rd minute, most would have expected it to be too little, too late.
The fresh legs of Yatabare had other ideas though. With fifteen seconds left of the allotted four minutes of stoppage time, he was quickest to Fernandes' parry to slide home the unlikeliest of goals to level the game at 4-4.
"I just couldn't imagine we could fight back like that,” said two-goal hero Keita. "We were bad in the first half, mentally we weren't really at the races.” Like any good coach, amidst the joy Stephen Keshi - who went on to lead his native Nigeria to the title in 2013 – was certainly not pleased that a revival of such magnitude was needed. "It was a little difficult to believe we might come back. I've got mixed feelings, I'm happy with a draw but upset with my team.”
Unfortunately for his opposite number Manuel Jose, his emotions at the final whistle were all too in focus. “This draw tasted like a defeat to me, this is one of the most bitter pills I've ever had to swallow in all the matches of my long career,” he proclaimed. "Football in Africa is learning on the road, we have the skills but we were a little naive. The public deserved a win.”
Fears of becoming the first host to be eliminated at the group stage since Tunisia in 1994 were fortunately allayed and ultimately, despite the scars of that day, had the last laugh, pipping Mali into the quarter-finals by a point.