JOHANNESBURG, January 11 – Togo have dominated the pre-2013 Africa Cup of Nations headlines as Emmanuel Adebayor played a game of cat-and-mouse over whether he would turn up for the tournament.
Although only 28, the gangling Tottenham Hotspur striker has ‘retired’ countless times from playing for his country and his intentions became clear only when the national football federation released its squad.
Adebayor has long been unhappy with the Togolese football authorities and unpaid win and appearance bonuses, penny-pinching travel arrangements and inadequate security are among unresolved complaints.
After insisting for many weeks that he would not travel to South Africa, citing security concerns, the captain changed his mind following several meetings with Togolese head of state Faure Gnassingbe.
His inclusion was a massive relief for French coach Didier Six as Togo stand little chance against Group D rivals Ivory Coast, Algeria and Tunisia with him, and virtually none without him.
He equalised away and opened the scoring at home against Gabon to play a crucial role in the Sparrow Hawks qualifying an eighth time for the finals, although tragedy intervened to prevent them competing three years ago.
Togo broke the competition rules when they travelled from a training camp in Congo Brazzaville to host nation Angola by road instead of air and a player and an official died when the team bus was attacked after crossing the border.
Adebayor escaped injury by ducking under a seat and cut a severly traumatised figure after an incident blamed on separitists seeking independence for the oil-rich Cabinda enclave.
African governing football body CAF suspended Togo from the 2012 and 2013 Cup of Nations for flying home instead of competing, in a widely condemned move that was later reversed.
Togo pipped Kenya and Gabon to make South Africa only to be dealt a raw deal by the draw as they must face three of the top 10 teams on the continent with little hope of a top-two finish and a quarter-finals place.
Former France star Six begs to differ as he faces his first test at the highest level of African football less than a year after taking charge of the Sparrow Hawks.
“We are not afraid of these big teams. On the contrary, all these big teams are afraid to play against us. I am not worried about Algeria, Ivory Coast and Tunisia — not at all,” he told reporters.
South Africa-based midfielder Dove Wome is also remarkably upbeat given that Togo have won only two of 18 matches before six first-round exits with the last success 13 years ago against Cameroon.
“This group is difficult but no team is easy to beat today. We have a new generation that want to make a name for itself. There is everything to gain and nothing to lose.”