Population: 5,700,000
Area: 56,785 km²
Capital: Lome
Language: French

Togo surprised by winning CAF group 1 two points ahead of favourites Senegal.
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Jan 07 Togo v Guinea 0-1
Jan 11 Togo v Ghana 1-0
Jan 21 Congo DR v Togo 2-0
Jan 25 Cameroon v Togo 2-0
Jan 29 Angola v Togo 3-2
May 14 Saudi Arabia v Togo 1-0
Jun 02 Liechtenstein v Togo 0-1

Participated: None
Best placing: None
Topscorer: None

Jun 13 - TOG v KOR  in Frankfurt
Jun 19 - TOG v SWI  in Dortmund
Jun 23 - TOG v FRA  in Cologne

- Togo in Group G -
Jan Alsos: 2nd place
Pierre Boisrond: 4th place
Ruud Doevendans: 4th place
Mike Gibbons: 4th place
Peter Goldstein: 4th place
Paul Marcuccitti: 4th place
Felipe Santos: 4th place
PREDICTION: First round exit


by Peter Goldstein

    What can you say about a team that swept through the qualifiers with the best record in the confederation, then four months later finished fifteenth at the regional championship? What can you say about a team that fired their coach the same week he was named confederation coach of the year? What can you say about a team that was a mystery when the qualifiers began and a mystery when they ended, and will still be a mystery only two weeks before the World Cup? You can say they’re Togo, and right now that’s about all you can say.

    You probably know some of the story. The Hawks were a largely a team of unknowns, less than half of them first-team regulars at their clubs. Under the leadership of former Nigerian international Stephen Keshi, they beat out heavy favorites Senegal in their qualifying group. Keshi became an instant hero: the first of a new breed, the African coach with European training, the revolutionary future of the continent. But the team failed dismally at the Nations Cup in Egypt, where Keshi was involved in a bizarre row with star striker Emmanuel Adebayor. He was sacked without remorse, replaced by Otto Pfister, yet another in the long line of European coaching gypsies. How long has Pfister been around? He coached Burkina Faso before they were named Burkina Faso. So much for the revolution.

    Pfister does have pedigree of a sort. He coached Ghana to the 1991 FIFA U-17 World Championship, then the next year took the senior side to the Final of the Nations Cup, losing only on penalty kicks. He also qualified Saudi Arabia in 1994. Otherwise his international record is ordinary, but to be honest, most of the time he hasn’t had much to work with. And he’s not going to get much help from the Togolese FA, who frankly seem out of their depth. They were the last team in the field to settle their training program, and will have had no friendlies between early February and mid-May.

    With the change at the top, a preview of the Hawks is pretty much irrelevant. In March and April Pfister got plenty of use out of his Eurailpass, zipping around the continent to observe the many Togolese playing in out-of-the-way leagues and lower divisions. He’ll have to choose his 23 after only one friendly (vs. Saudi Arabia the day before the deadline!), and his starting 11 after only a few weeks of training. He’s already said he’s going to reconstitute the side, with emphasis on players active at their clubs. So what you’ll read below has limited value. At best we can tell you about the players who appeared in Egypt, plus a few more possibilities. You could put up a dart board and do just as well at picking the starting eleven.

    In fact, besides Adebayor, there’s only one sure starter--and even he isn’t sure. It’s Kossi Agassa, the keeper on the rolls at Metz. He’s an excellent netminder, good both at shot-stopping and coming off his line. He rescued the defense countless times during the qualifiers. But he tore a meniscus right after the tournament in Egypt, and has just come back to action--not to mention that he openly campaigned to keep Keshi over Pfister. The second string in Egypt was Ourou-Nimini Tchagnirou (AS Djoliba), who made three excellent saves in the game with Angola, but looked pretty raw.

    The back line is the biggest headache. The leader is captain and centerback Jean-Paul Abalo (Apoel Nicosia); in his prime he was a good reader, mobile marker, and sound tackler, but his game has gone downhill in recent years. He’s only 30, so should theoretically have some time left, but hasn’t had regular decent-class football in over a year. A veteran of the second division in France, this year he dropped to the amateur fourth division to get playing time, and in mid-March moved to Cyprus.

    The other centerback candidates are no more certain. Eric Akoto (unattached) is strong, good in the air, but slow; Daré Nibombe (Mons) is very tall, also good in the air, but an uncertain marker; Tchangai Massamesso (Benevento) is quick and a decent tackler, but erratic. Massamesso is probably the best right now, and the fact that he plays in Serie C2 in Italy tells you the level you’re dealing with. For years Togo have been trying to get Kodjo Afanou of Bordeaux to commit to the team; he’s agile and anticipates well, à la Sammy Kuffour. He told Keshi he wouldn’t rule it out--then up and quit his club without warning. If he’s willing to play, and is match fit, he’ll be the best they have.

    The fullback situation is equally difficult. The current options on the right are Emmanuel Matthias (Esperance), big and powerful, and Gafarou Mamah (Libreville), small and quick; both are OK with the ball at their feet, and can get forward at times, but have difficulties reading the game. On the left, neither Zanzan Atte-Oudeyi (Lokeren) nor Ludovic Assemoassa (Murcia) have shown themselves ready for top-class competition, although Assemoassa has looked more respectable after shifting to centerback at his club.

    The midfield lacks a true playmaker; under Keshi, the central midfielders were mainly defenders. The best of them is Yao Aziawonou (Young Boys Bern), who covers a lot of ground, distributes effectively from deep, and has a hard left-footed shot. Alexis Romao (Louhans-Cuiseaux) looks like a useful search-and-destroy type. Kassim Gouyazou (Etolie Filante) is the quickest, and has decent technique, but at the moment seems too undisciplined.

    In Egypt the most effective attacking midfielder was Moustapha Salifou (Brest). He’s on the slow side, but useful with the ball at his feet, and gives very good service to the forwards. At the same time, he’s not the sort who can drive an attack. Left-footer Sherif-Touré Mamam (Metz) is similar: not much pace or dynamic thrust, but muscular and with good technique. Unfortunately neither man has had much playing time at their clubs lately. Many have called for the return of Thomas Dossevi, a regular at Valenciennes, off the squad for a while. He’s strong and fast, and as a former striker knows how to score. But he’s technically limited, and so unlikely to transform the attack all by himself. Another fan favorite is 18-year-old Jonathan Tokplé, the PSG property who can play both midfield and striker.

    Up front Adebayor is king. At Monaco he played as a lone striker in a slow buildup; now, at Arsenal, he’s getting a taste of the faster game, and is becoming a more complete player. He’s tall, with pacy long strides, excellent ball skills, and a knack for combining with his teammates. He can play back to goal or go straight at his man, stay in the area or go touchline to touchline. He ranks as one of Europe’s top young forwards. With Togo, although only 22, he’s a man among boys.

    Adebayor’s usual partner during the qualifiers was Kader Coubadja (Guingamp). He’s small and tricky, with neat skills, capable of a creative surprise, unfortunately an inconsistent finisher. He’s recently dropped from Sochaux into the second division, where he can get more playing time. Another possibility is French second division veteran Robert Malm (Brest), more of a centerforward. Emmanuel Olufadé (Al-Siliya) and Junior Senaya (Juventus Zurich) are right wingers who might see some time; the former a straight-ahead speedster, the latter a quick technical type.

    The Hawks were one of the great stories of the qualifiers, but they’re complete outsiders now. Under Keshi they were much more than the sum of their parts, and that’s a hard trick to pull off. Whether the team will respond to Pfister is unknown. Even after he was hired, a number of the players pleaded with the FA to take Keshi back--not a good sign. But remember, this is Group G, the weakest in the tournament, where anything is possible. Pfister has a track record with young players, and might spot a few gems in his European travels. Adebayor is still a top-class striker. Best of all, no one is expecting much from the side--just the way it was when the qualifiers began.




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