Sooo, it’s Day 2, the Day After Day 1. In an on-again-off again saga that truly tested the wobbly journalistic legs of newborn BOLAS & BANDEIRAS, it looks like the Togo squad is officially out of the tournament. After the team’s emotional post-attack meeting in which they decided to soldier on in tribute to their fallen comrades, they were ultimately summoned home by Togo’s Prime Minister Gilbert Houngbo. Still, they expressed interest in returning to the Cup of Nations after a 3-day mourning period…however the possibility to this has now been nixed by tournament administrators.
I guess I can sympathize with the Cup organizers, who might be daunted by the last-minute juggling required to allow Togo a 3-day reprieve, but surely television schedules could be put on the back burner in light of this tragedy. The more disappointing decision comes on the part of Togo’s functionaries/sports bureaucracy. Maybe there was no consensus on what was best for the team, but clearly the players wanted to stay on and participate in the Cup, rather than leaving “like cowards” (as Alaixys Romao put it). You’d have to think it’s demoralizing (maybe even emasculating) for them to be so dramatically overruled by tut-tutting government types.
meanwhile…Correspondent Audrey sez:
Angolan press agencies are reporting that two members of the FLEC group that attacked the Togolese team have been captured “at the site of the incident, on the road to Massabi that links Angola and Congo.”
After the utter failure of their previous attempts to rouse international sympathy for their struggle, Friday’s attack can only been seen as an ill-advised publicity stunt. But as former BBC correspondent Lara Pawson describes, the political landscape in Cabinda has become increasingly murky over the past several years. If, in fact, the two captured members are indeed responsible for the attack, one can only hope they won’t be subject to the same “indiscriminate repression” and abuses that Human Rights Watch denounced the Angolan government for earlier this year.
T minus 21 hours to CUP O NATIONS kickoff! Get psyched with the top 10 goals of CAN2008:
Proceedings are going ahead despite the Togolese bus attack. And Togo, despite earlier reports that they would pull out of the competition, are now saying that they will stay and play.
Thomas Dossevi told the AFP news agency the players wanted to stay in Angola in memory of the three people who were killed when rebels fired on their bus. L’Equipe quoted Alaixys Romao as saying the team would not leave like cowards. […]
“We are all heartbroken, it is no longer a party, but we want to show our national colours, our values and that we are men,” Thomas Dossevi said. “It was a decision taken nearly unanimously by the team which met during the night after having been reassured by the Angolan authorities,” he added. Alaixys Romao also said the decision had been unanimous.
Reports have been conflicting, with Manchester City reporting that Adebayor was already on his way home to Manchester. Hopefully things should be sorted out by tomorrow’s opening ceremonies, but I do hope they’ll decide to stay (if only for selfish desire for added cultural-athletic dramatics).
The initial response to the attacks from some European clubs—Portsmouth FC in particular—was pretty shameful.
The club with the greatest concerns over security is Portsmouth, which has Nwankwo Kanu with Nigeria, Aruna Dindane with Ivory Coast, and both Nadir Belhadj and Hassan Yebda in the Algeria squad.
“We have asked the (English) Football Association to ask FIFA how safe it is and to guarantee the safety of our players,” Portsmouth spokesman Gary Double told The Associated Press. “Our players’ safety is paramount and if that can’t be guaranteed the players should be sent home.”
Portsmouth hoped to take advantage of this awful tragedy in order to get their players sent back to England, not for any worry regarding their safety, but simply in order to bolster their squad for next week’s Premier League games.
Other European managers, such as “One” Arsène Wenger, showed a greater sensitivity, insisting that his players should stay, and play, for the good of football, and for the good of the continent:
“We won’t be asking Fifa to release them, and I’ll be happy for Eboué to play in Cabinda on Monday,” said Wenger. “I believe it would be disrespectful to Africa and the Africa Nations Cup [to bring them home]. You can’t always encourage Africa to develop and if something happens say ‘come back to Europe’.”
The manager added: “I don’t believe you can just stop any competition for any incident, because that would be a reward for the people who provoke these atrocities. It would mean any competition could be stopped at any time.
“An international federation has to make sure the security is well respected and good enough for the event. Of course, you have to leave it individually to some players so that, if they feel insecure or scared, they have the possibility to come away from it. But I personally feel the competition has to go on.”
Perhaps the tournament’s clear cut favorites, owing to the megawattage of some of their stars.
I think I am obliged to type that Africa’s most famous footballer Didier Drogba, is the talismanic leader of both Ivorian line and squad, especially because all Africans are totally obsessed with talismans—indeed Angolan construction contracters have made sure these new stadia come with all sorts of amulets and omen-emitting charms pre-embedded in the pitch. Drogz aside, the offensive firepower also includes his Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou, Sevilla’s Arouna Koné, 64″ Marseille striker Bakary Koné, and feisty 21 year-old Gervinho (who has scored 11 goals already this year for 2nd-placed Lille in Ligue A). The quality isn’t solely in offense, as The Elephants also feature Barcelona’s leggy box-to-box midfield romper Yaya Touré and Didier Zokora smack in the middle of the park (thriving since moving to Sevilla). The Ivorians look solid right through to defense, with Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboué at right-back and Kolo Touré in the center. Their weak spot has to be seen as their energetic, though not entirely reliable, goalkeeper Boubacar Barry. Ivory Coast didn’t lose during the qualifying rounds, allowed only 6 goals, and their four draws all came away from home. Hopefully the team is a bit older and wiser than in 2008 when despite a similarly strong field of players and attendant hoopla, they were unceremoniously thumped 4-1 by a more cohesive Egypt team who went on to hoist the Cup themselves. It should also be noted that the luck of the draw pits Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic in a regional-managerial derby against Ghana’s Serbian skipper Milovan Rajevac.
Here’s youthman Gervinho in action, looking good though losing points for sporting the intensely crap Adebayor-circa-2006 hair. Get some fingerwaves or cornrows, my boy!:
The height of Les Etalons Cup glory came in 1998, when as hosts they galloped into the semifinals. The Bukinabé team qualified for the Cup for the first time since 2004, going 9-1-2 in the combined qualifying stages and losing only to Ivory Coast, but they now find themselves in a brutal group…and a newly peculiar one due to the tragedy befalling the Togo squad. They have been effectively organized by 40 year-old Portuguese coach Paulo Duarte, who was actually Dr. Jose Mourinho‘s assistant in his pre-Porto managerial gig at União de Leiria. With Togo gone from Group B, perhaps his charges can continue to grind out results as they did in the qualifying groups, focusing solely on their showdowns with two giants of African soccer. They have already gained valuable experience in their duels with Ivory Coast, one of which was a scrappy 3-2 defeat. If they are underestimated by the sometimes-headstrong Elephants, they will quickly become one of the key narratives of the CAN.
The talents at Duarte’s disposal include Marseille’s much-scouted defensive midfielder Charles Kaboré and 12 goal striker Moumouni Dagano (joint top scorer in qualifying rounds [tied with stiker from Fiji FWIW]). Talisman Dagano already has European suitors sniffing about, so an inspired tournament could well seal a transfer deal for him, though he’s currently earning (well?) in Qatar at club Al-Khor. Dude is big, he’s jumpin’, he’s sturdily heading the ball into the goallll:
The 2008 hosts were favorites to win the Cup before being nudged out 1-0 by Cameroon in the semifinals. Though still featuring the world’s best non-Xavi midfielder Michael Essien (newly back from injury), the Black Stars of Ghana come to the tournament without some influential names. Their defense in particular has taken a serious hit with John Mensah, John Pa(i?)ntsil, and captain Stephen Appiah all missing through injury. Scrappy attacking midfielder Laryea Kings(t?)on is also missing out, as is offensive pivot player Sulley Muntari—he’s not injured, but rather in the doghouse with Ghana’s FA under fishy circumstances. Inter Milan’s Muntari refused to fly down for a friendly with Angola (which Essien and Asamoah Gyan also missed) and is supposedly exiled from the team due to his failure to apologize. Some journalists have insinuated there might be payoffs involved, as major European clubs frequently (and annoyingly) gripe at having to release their players for the mid-season Cup of Nations.
The sometimes-delusional hopes of glory biennially fostered by the footballing media in Ghana have earned them comparisons with England. Ghana have traditionally looked a bit thin up front however, although Gyan has bagged 8 goals so far this season for Rennes. They also have the newly enlisted 20 year-old Dominic Adiyiah, on the books of AC Milan, who was voted MVP in the Ghana U-20 teams romp to the World Cup title this summer.
Adiyiah is one of eight players promoted from this title-winning youth squad, so perhaps some new leaders will burble forth with so many tradtional totems of the squad absentee. However, even if they score bags of goals, some of Ghana’s finest goal celebration specialists will still be watching from the sidelines, mimicking the choreographed jubilation in sweaty blazers.
A STILL-BREAKING news story could see the Togo squad pull out of the tournament after a heavily-armed attack on their team bus. A Portuguese news agency is reporting that splinter groups of the Cabinda regional separatist movement has claimed responsibility for these attacks. Since BOLAS & BANDEIRAS is so newly launched, we don’t yet have the resources to quickly assemble reportage at this level.
The Togo team is clearly led by Emmanuel Adebayor, one of the most prominent African footballers since his 2006 move to Arsenal, who this evening said:
“I think a lot of players want to leave. I don’t think they want to be at this tournament any more because they have seen their death already. Most of the players want to go back to their family. No one can sleep after what they have seen today. They have seen one of their team-mates have a bullet in his body, who is crying, who is losing consciousness and everything. So we will have a good meeting tonight, everyone will go to their room, they will rest and we will see tomorrow morning we will make a decision which is good for our life.”
/// UPDATE ///
Togo have withdrawn from the tournament. In addition to the Angolan bus driver slain in the attack, reserve keeper Kossi Agassa has now died as a result of his injuries. One Togo squad member stated that they are “also talking to the other teams in our group to try to convince them to boycott the competition too”. As Adebayor pointed out in his original statement, this is a tragic attack which will confirm many of the worst stereotypes observers have about Africa. We sympathize and respect with the Togo squad’s withdrawal, but think the tournament needs to go on as a positive statement of perseverance…otherwise the “terrorists will have won” etc.!