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African Football League Preview: Petro de Luanda

The inaugural edition of the African Football League (AFL) is off and running with eight of the continent’s top clubs looking to claim the competition and lucrative prize money that is on offer. Pan-Africa Football is previewing each club at the competition and below you can read more on Angola’s top club and 2021-22 CAF Champions League semifinalists Petro de Luanda:

Background

After several seasons of watching Luanda rivals Primeiro de Agosto dominate Angolan football, Petro are back at the top of the country’s top division Girabola after capturing the last two domestic league titles. The club also reestablished their credentials in African club competition by upsetting their AFL quarterfinal opponents Mamelodi Sundowns to reach the 2021-22 CAF Champions League semifinals for their best-ever finish in the competition since 2001. Os Tricolores continue to thrive by acquiring the best Angolan talent along with players from fellow Lusophone countries like Portugal and Brazil to boost their squad for higher level competition.

Schedule

Quarterfinals

1st Leg- vs Mamelodi Sundowns on October 21 in Luanda

2nd Leg- @ Mamelodi Sundowns on October 24 in Pretoria

Notable Arrivals and Departures

Arrivals

FW Jonathan Rubio (HON)- Transfer from Académico Viseu (POR)

FW Alexandre Guedes (POR)- Transfer from Paços de Ferreira (POR)

DF Diógenes João (ANG)- Transfer from Al-Ahli Benghazi (LBY)

FW Anderson Cruz (ANG)- Loan then transfer from Rio Ave (POR)

MF Vanilson (ANG)- Transfer from Trofense (POR)

Departures

MF Alex Soares (POR)- Transfer to Estoril (POR)

MF Ito (ANG)- Transfer to Al-Wehda (JOR)

FW Yano (ANG)- Transfer to Al-Ahli Tripoli (LBY)

FW Gleison (BRA)- Transfer to Al-Khaldiya (BHR)

Head Coach- Alexandre Santos

The Portuguese coach acquired plenty of experience as an assistant early in his career with top Portuguese clubs Braga and FC Porto as well as the Saudi Arabia national team and Egyptian giants Al Ahly. After a couple of spells as head coach with lower division clubs in his native country, Santos made the jump to Angolan football and has not looked back. After winning the Girabola league title in his first season (2021-22) while guiding Petro to a surprise semifinal run at the CAF Champions League the 46-year-old turned down several offers to return to Portugal in order to continue managing at Petro where he is enjoying his time in Angola.

Petro play similarly to other top African clubs under Santos with more of an emphasis on attacking through the flanks. Santos typically likes to utilize a 4-3-3 and its variations with two central midfielders at the base and wide attacking midfielders who can provide dribbling and crosses in support of top striker Tiago Azulão.

Goalkeeping

37-year-old Hugo Marques is a well established veteran goalkeeper who is a member of the Angola national team and joined Petro after a successful spell in South Africa with Cape Town City. Marques commands his defense well and is an important source of leadership and experience in the Os Petroliferos side. Petro will need Marques to continue his consistent play because the backup options are inexperienced if Marques is unavailable.

Defense

Angola national team player Kinito (left) and Portuguese defender Pedro Pinto (right) contribute to a solid Petro defensive unit

The Petro defense is consistent throughout with strength in the middle and out wide at the fullback position. 25-year-old central defender Kinito is impressive on aerial duels and also has the speed to keep up with quicker attackers while Portuguese defender Pedro Pinto provides a stern and tough presence with valuable experience from his time in Portuguese club football. Inácio Miguel, a Portuguese-born Angolan who joined the club from Latvian football midway through last season, is another capable hand who could also play in the AFL.

Eddie Afonso and Tó Carneiro are fullbacks who have experience with the Angola national team and there is plenty of depth behind them. Diógenes João is back at the club after a year in Libya and 18-year-old right back Mindinho are also options to play after 18-year-old rising talent Pedro Bondo left for Portuguese giants Sporting CP following last season.

Midfield

Megue is a central midfielder who has excellent ball control and is emerging as a player who can contribute for the Angola national team at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations

Midfield is the department where Petro are lacking compared to Africa’s top clubs but there is one key contributor who continues to develop. 26-year-old Megue is an important link between the midfield and attack with his pace and tight control that allows him to carry the ball in tight spaces as well as in the open field. Brazilian veteran William Soares is a consistent presence deep in the midfield who disrupts opposition attacks with his tackling ability.

The interesting player to watch higher up in the midfield is Honduras national team playmaker Jonathan Rubio, whose arrival from Portuguese club football is a sign of Petro’s ability to draw in talented foreign players. Rubio can play in any attacking position and will likely line up behind the striker in a central role. Joaquim Adão is a defensive option in the center while Carlinhos and Job are veteran attacking options who add plenty of depth for Petro.

Forwards

Brazilian forward Tiago Azulão is a goal scoring legend in Angolan football since joining Petro in 2016, recently scoring his 150th goal for the club

Petro’s attack begins and ends with 35-year-old Brazilian striker Tiago Azulão. The legend of Angolan football is a classic poacher who loves to get on the end of crosses. This season brings the arrival of another traditional striker, former Portugal youth national team player Alexandre Guedes, a strong central presence who gives coach Santos another excellent option.

On the wings there are plenty of options with Gilberto the most dangerous. The 22-year-old is likely to be in the Angola squad for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations where his speed and tricky dribbling skill will be valuable off the bench. Gilberto is likely to be in the eleven but other options include Jaredi, a diminutive winger who is an accurate crosser, and the more experienced Anderson Cruz who completed a permanent transfer after spending last season on loan from Portuguese club Rio Ave.

Prognosis

Petro’s captivating 2021-22 CAF Champions League run to the semifinals was followed by a group stage elimination last season but this team is operating at their best under coach Santos. Now they will need to upset Mamelodi Sundowns once again after claiming the South African club’s scalp during their 2021-22 run. Considering the lack of star power in the defense and midfield, Petro will be underdogs and it is difficult to see them upstaging a Sundowns team determined to avenge the defeat from 2021-22 over two legs.

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