Togo in dramatic U-turn

2010-01-10 15:33
Thomas Dossevi (AFP)
Luanda - Togo performed a dramatic U-turn on their decision to quit the African Nations Cup, electing instead to stay in Angola and compete, players said hours before the competition gets underway Sunday.

"In memory of the dead, the national team has decided to play in the African Nations Cup," Thomas Dossevi, who plays for French side Nantes told AFP.

The surprise announcement revoked their earlier intention to fly home in the wake of Friday's' deadly attack on their team bus in Cabinda.

The attack by separatist rebels left at least two dead and many injured, and led to the team being called back to Lome by the Togolese government.

But after impassioned pleas by the Angolan Prime Minister Paulo Kassoma and African Nations Cup organisers, the players chose to remain.

"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," he said.

"It was a decision taken nearly unanimously by the team which met during the night after having been reassured by the Angolan authorities," Dossevi added.

Midfielder Alaixys Romao, who plays for French club Grenoble, told the French sports newspaper L'Equipe: "The entire delegation just met and, after all, we'll be on the pitch Monday to play against Ghana."

"People have died for the African Nations Cup, others were injured. We can't let them down and leave like cowards," he added.

Earlier Angola's efforts to allay security concerns appeared to have been ignored by Togo.

"The Togolese government has decided to recall its team," Togolese government spokesman Pascal Bodjona said.

"We cannot in such a dramatic circumstance continue the African Nations Cup competition. This is necessary because the players are in shock."

Romao said: Our government doesn't necessarily agree with us, but we are all determined to play in this competition. The decision was taken unanimously."

Togo captain Emmanuel Adebayor, had earlier been reported by his club Manchester City to be returning to Britain.

Dossevi criticised organisers for not rescheduling the Ghana fixture.

The team is "a bit bitter, we are a little disappointed with the Confederation of African Football (CAF)... which couldn't arrange for a postponement of our first match so we could bury our dead.

"CAF puts its interests first and not those of the countries.

"They did not support us enough."

Kassoma met with CAF president Issa Hayatou to reassure him about player safety ahead of the opening match of Africa's largest football festival in Luanda.

"The prime minister considers the incident in Cabinda as an isolated act and repeated that the security of Togo's team and the other squads is guaranteed," his office said in a statement.

Later Kassoma, talking on Angolan state radio, urged Togo to stay.

"Let us go on together, united in this big event, this major celebration of African youth in this year of glory for African sport."

His words were echoed by CAF president Hayatou.

"If you choose to remain with us we will help you overcome your pain," he said.

CAF official Kodjo Samlan said earlier reports that one of the bus drivers had been killed were incorrect.

Togo's assistant coach and its squad spokesman died after hooded gunmen opened fire as the team's buses crossed into the restive Angolan enclave of Cabinda.

The attack was claimed by the FLEC/PM separatist group embroiled in a struggle for independence in the oil-rich territory, which warned the attack was "only the start of a series of targeted actions".

During the 20 minute ambush players and others cowered under seats to escape the bullets.

Dossevi said they had been "fired on like dogs".

"We are all a little shocked and we're asking why CAF were holding games in Cabinda. How can you organise a tournament in a state of war?" he told AFP.

On Saturday evening, goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale was in a stable condition in a Johannesburg hospital where he was expected to undergo surgery for gunshot wounds to the lower back and abdomen after being airlifted to South Africa.

Organisers said the games would proceed as planned.

"CAF is continuing with its schedule and the sovereign authorities of the country (Angola) are taking the adequate measures surrounding security," said Constant Omari, a member of the local organising committee.

Hosts Angola take on Mali on Sunday at Luanda's new 50 000-seat November 11 Stadium in the first game in the 22-day tournament.


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