The road to qualification for Togo has been rocky to say the least, but the controversy behind the scenes has seemed to prove little distraction. The Sparrow Hawks will be competing against Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast and Ghana as they try and improve on their miserable record in the competition.
The first round of qualification involves only the ten lowest ranked African countries, so Togo began their attempt at qualification straight from the second round. They were drawn into Group 11 alongside Zambia, Swaziland and Eritrea, although the latter withdrew from the competition on 25th March 2008 without being replaced. Togo finished a respectable, but not so impressive 2nd behind Zambia, recording both victories and defeats against both opponents and therefore notching 6 points. Their final game in this round would have given them plenty of confidence however, recording a 6-0 victory in which Emmanuel Adebayor scored four goals.
- Adebayor: star striker
Round Three saw Togo seeded into Pot 4 according to the FIFA World Rankings, and placed into Group A with Cameroon, Gabon and Morocco, all of whom have higher rankings – Cameroon in particular being a fearsome opponent as Africa’s most successful side. But Togo defied the odds and finished in third place above Morocco, a feat made more impressive when considering the two teams are 48 ranks apart. At this stage they managed two defeats, two draws and two victories – one of them against Cameroon – which meant they finished with eight points as oppose to Morocco’s three.
It wasn’t only Togo’s good form on the pitch that was inspiring. The team’s dedication in spite of several obstacles along the way has made their qualification all the more admirable. The country are no strangers to controversy – the 2006 World Cup saw them threaten to sit out their second match versus Switzerland because of financial disagreements. And in 2007 the CAF placed an indefinite ban on home fixtures in Togo after Freddie Kanoute and Mamady Sidiebe were injured after the Togolese fans attacked their opponent’s players. They faced more problems still during their qualification campaign. During a second round game against Gabon, defender Abdul Mamah was played even though he was ineligible due to suspension. FIFA awarded Gabon a 3-0 win, although this had little relevance as it was the original outcome of the match. Morocco then claimed their 0-0 draw should also be turned into a 3-0 victory for themselves, but this was not supported by the CAF or FIFA. In addition, manager Jean Thissen was sacked last October after allegations of rifts with players and unfavourable talks with the Cameroon FA. Frenchman and former Reims goalkeeper Hubert Velut now coaches the team.
And it is not only recent events that Togo are looking to put behind them. They have never managed to improve on reaching Round 1 of the competition, either withdrawing from the qualifying rounds or being unable to progress past them on other occasions. Such dismal records do not tend to change dramatically, but Togo will be hoping to better their previous best, or at least equal it so as not to damage the country’s already wavering reputation.
But they have a difficult task ahead of them. The Sparrow Hawks have been placed in Group B alongside the Stallions, the Elephants and the Black Stars – more commonly known as Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast and Ghana respectively. The Ivory Coast are one of the favourites to win the competition, boasting Premier League stars such as Didier Drogba and Kolo Toure, while Ghana are much more developed as a football team. Both are far better equipped than Togo – for one, their football association is not nearly as disorganised.
In general, the competition does not bode well for Togo. While they feature several strong players, like captain Dare Nibombe and star striker Adebayor, there is a distinct tendency to rely on them too much; when they don’t play well, the team performance as a whole is worse. And with such strong competition, the best they can hope for is not to finish last in the group. But in football, anything can happen, and if Togo continue their remarkably dedicated spirit, there is every chance they could cause an upset.