Togo's plea for re-entry rejected

CAF refuses to reschedule matches as crisis-hit team offer to return to competition
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The Independent Online

Togo's non-participation in the African Nations Cup was finally confirmed yesterday as the Confederation of African Football (CAF) declined their request to reschedule games.

Although Togo flew home on Sunday night after their Prime Minister Gilbert Houngbo had insisted the team could not play while the goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale lay in intensive care in a Johannesburg hospital following Friday's terrorist attack, the country's sports minister, Christophe Tchou, had said they would be looking to return following a three-day period of mourning.

That would have involved a major rejig of the tournament schedule and, given the sacrifices other teams would have had to make and the effect on television rights, it never seemed a realistic option. It is even possible that Tchou was responding to Emmanuel Adebayor's comment that the players had wanted to play on but had been forced to withdraw by the government; by making the suggestion, Tchou was effectively placing responsibility for Togo's non-participation on the CAF, rather than the government.

Even within the Togolese administration there seemed to be disagreement, with Houngbo effectively contradicting Tchou by insisting the team had withdrawn not out of respect for the three people killed in the attack, but because of concerns over the squad's safety. "Our decision to withdraw the team is really based on the security consideration," Houngbo said, "and what we believe is a mismanagement of what happened." He said his concerns had been "totally disregarded" by both CAF and officials within Angola.

"We had hoped we could have a calm discussion with the host country, with the confederation, to assess what has happened, assess what to do. We received no cooperation from the confederation in terms of any kind of assessment. Our analysis is that they want it [the attack] to be seen as a non-event and the show must go on as planned; there mustn't be an official change and Togo is causing problems to the festival."

There remains the possibility that Togo could return to Angola to play a memorial game, although what form that might take, who would be involved or where it would be played remains unclear. In Togo, church services have been held for the two Togolese victims, a press officer and the team's assistant coach, while flags are flying at half mast.

Chelsea's striker Didier Drogba insisted yesterday – before his Ivory Coast side's 0-0 draw with Burkina Faso – that the tournament must continue, even though the machine gun attack on the Togo team bus had left everyone "shattered". "We are ready," Drogba added, "but the events of Friday have left us shattered. I have spoken with Emmanuel Adebayor and it was a difficult situation for them.

"We have to show solidarity with them, though, and support the decision they have taken. We are all sad to see them leave the biggest competition for African players, but that is life."

Angolan authorities confirmed yesterday that they had arrested two men suspected of involvement in the attack on Sunday evening.

A spokesman for the army described a search of the forest near Massabi for members of FLEC, the separatist organisation that claimed responsibility for the attacks. "The two elements of FLEC were captured at the scene of the incident, the road to Massabi that connects both countries," the provincial prosecutor, Antonio Nito, told Angolan radio.