Industrial action came to the World Cup yesterday. Togo's players, who are in dispute with their football federation over pay and bonuses, initially refused to leave their base in southern Germany to fly here for today's Group G meeting with Switzerland. The squad relented only after being warned of serious repercussions by Fifa.
Togo's German coach, Otto Pfister, had downed tools and walked off the job on their arrival at the finals, saying that the haggling over money was making his job impossible. Shortly before the party from the tiny, impoverished West African state were due to depart for Dortmund - with Pfister reinstated - the players followed his cue.
Officials from the game's world governing body became concerned when it was clear the Togolese would not make their scheduled flight. Alarmed at the prospect of only one team running out in the Westfalen Stadium - with its echoes of Estonia's non-appearance against Scotland in a 1996 qualifier - they went in to warn the players of the consequences.
Among the measures likely to have been threatened are a possible ban from future tournaments and the forfeiting of revenues from the current competition. A Fifa official said: "We understand the Togo team didn't want to play. They were told that would be extremely serious. They were told to be reasonable and they were."
Pfister, in charge of the lowest-ranked side in the finals, said he understood a solution had been found, but added wearily: "I don't know what it is and I don't want to know." Togo's training session at the match venue, arranged for the afternoon, was rescheduled for last night.
The players are seeking $158,000 per man (£85,000) to play in the World Cup. They also want $30,800 (£16,600) each for a win (they lost 2-1 to South Korea in their opening game) and $15,800 (£8,500) for a draw. However, the average annual income in Togo is just $316, and the association claims it cannot meet the demands.
Togo's troubles may seem to be a godsend for opponents who drew their first match 0-0 against France. The Switzerland coach, Kobi Kuhn, was wary of such assumptions and keen to dispel any complacency. "Anyone who thinks they will be cannon fodder is completely wrong," he said. "They're a strong side who qualified for the finals from a strong group."Reuse content