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Togo Party

September 6th, 2005 by · No Comments · Features, Football

One of the pleasant surprises of the African zone qualification process has been the emergence of Togo as a contender for the finals. Togo currently top Group 1 [of five] in the African zone ahead of Senegal, who made such a splash in the 2002 finals by beating world champions France in the opening game, and the strongly fancied Mali.

Togo, a former French colony built on cocoa, cotton and coffee and renowned as the ?Home of Black Magic? is a country of 5.5 million. Located on the West African coast and sandwiched between Benin and Ghana, to the east and west respectively, the recent economic growth has been augmented by its modest mineral wealth. Togo has seen its fair share of coups and is currently ruled by the Army backed son of the former President who amended the constitution and postponed elections until 2008.

The national football team, nicknamed ?The Hawks?, have a mixed international record. Having never been close to qualifying for the World Cup finals and qualifying, and going out in the first round, just 5 times for African Nations Cup since 1968, the last few years have seen some success, particularly at home in the capital Lome.

Despite these recent improvements it was no surprise when the team struggled in the first of a two leg pre-preliminary match against Equatorial Guinea. However, after losing the first leg the team scrapped a 2-O win to join the qualifications proper, the goals by Sheyi Emmanueal Adebayor being the only hint that things might be different this time around.

After losing their first qualification game against Zambia it seemed business as usual but they stabilised with a shock 3-1 win against Senegal, a team featuring Amdy Faye [Bolton from Newcastle], Henri Camara [Southampton, on loan from Wolves] and Pape Buoba Diop [Fulham] although the more familiar El Hadji Diouf [Bolton] didn?t play because he was in hot water with the coach. Togo then got carried away by winning at home to Congo, Mail and Zambia, scoring 10 goals while conceding just 2, and playing solidly away by picking up 5 points from a possible 9 with draws against Senegal and Liberia and a 1-2 win over Mail. With just 2 games to go, Liberia at home and Congo away, Togo look well placed to claim one of the 5 African places in the finals for the first time ever by winning the group.

Some explanations for their sudden success inevitably included the ?Magic? word but it is more likely the result of the some crucial decisions by key players. Togos best performer in the group games has been Sheyi Emmanueal Adebayor, currently with French champions Monaco who, like Adekamni Olufade, playing midfield with Charleroi, was born in Nigeria. The fact that the coach is the former Super Eagles skipper, Stephen Keshi, will have been an influencing factor. In fact the team have made such an impact recently they have secured a sponsorship deal with Puma, albeit for a relatively modest $600,000. Although Togo have been scoring from across the team, Sheyi has netted 8 times during the 10 qualification and pre-qualification games and is reported to be a target for Arsenal.

While watching the surprise success of Togo the Senegal supporters are dreaming of what could [should?] have been had they been captained by Patrick Viera in a campaign that has now cost the head coach, the Senegalese Football Federation president and the Sports Minister their jobs. Nigeria supporters, watching their team struggling to qualify from group 4, will look at Togo?s ?foreign players? with some envy and may feel in need of a little magic themselves.

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