Mysterious case of the 'national' football side that (allegedly) wasn't

Could a recent Togo v Bahrain match have involved a bizarre fraud?

The mocking football chant "Who are you?" has been given new meaning after a "fake" Togo team played Bahrain in an international friendly. Bahrain's football authorities have launched an investigation into a match last week against what their coach believes was a bunch of amateurs masquerading as Togo.

Bahrain enjoyed an easy 3-0 win in the match, but the "total lack of quality" from the West African opposition caused the Gulf state's coach Josef Hickersberger to question whether the line-up were really professionals at all.

"They were not fit enough to play 90 minutes – the match was very boring," he told the Gulf Daily News. "Basically it was not good for us because we wanted to get information about the strength of our team, especially playing with many of our professionals."

The Togo team – which in the past has called on European-based professionals and Premier League stars like Emmanuel Adebayor – had "no idea of tactics", no organisation in defence and faded badly in the second half, said Hickersberger. They were more like a "company team" than professional sportsmen, he added.

News of the defeat was less of a shock to the Togolese football federation than the existence of the game itself.

Togo's Sport Minister Christophe Tchao told the Jeune Afrique magazine nobody in Togo had "ever been informed of such a game. We will conduct investigations to uncover all those involved in this case," he said.

Red-faced football officials in Bahrain were mystified by the controversy. They insisted the fixture had been set up with an established football agent who was "100 per cent all right" and who was now helping them with investigations.

"Everything seemed to be in order until after the game, when we began to hear that some people are wondering about these players and this Togo team. We ourselves were surprised when we heard this," said a spokesman for the Bahrain football association. The visiting team had gone through all the "usual procedures", officials said, including submitting passports.

The "fake team" scandal marks another low for Togolese football after a year in which the squad was attacked by gunmen on its way to the first match of the Africa Cup of Nations in Cabinda and subsequently dropped out of the tournament. Despite the tragic attack which cost the life of one of the management team and left one of the players wounded, Togo was suspended from international competition after refusing to play on in Angola. The attack and the row between the African federation and the Togo authorities prompted the international retirement of Adebayor, the team's leading player.

Bluffs and blunders

* In 2002, a nationwide manhunt was launched for a portly, dark-haired man who had appeared alongside the Manchester United starting 11 in their official photograph on the pitch in Munich before a Champions League match with Bayern Munich. He was eventually revealed as Karl Power from Droylsden, Manchester, a serial prankster who has since surprised security with impromptu appearances with the England cricket team at Headingley, on the podium at Silverstone, and a knock-up with a friend on Wimbledon's Centre Court.

* When Graeme Souness was the Southampton manager he received a call from footballing great George Weah, stating that a player called Ali Dia was his cousin, had played for Paris Saint-Germain and had 13 caps for Senegal. The Scot decided to sign him on a one-month contract, despite having never seen him play. Dia came on as a substitute against Leeds in a 1996 Premier League match and, in the words of one team mate "ran around like Bambi on ice" before being substituted himself. The next day he disappeared from the club altogether. He now regularly tops lists of the worst footballers of all time. The purported call from George Weah, incidentally, was made by a student colleague of Dia's.

* Nigeria striker Obafemi Martins became embroiled in a bizarre row over his age in 2005 when the Nigerian Football Federation website claimed he was born in May 1978, almost six years earlier than the date on his passport. The Nigerian FA confirmed that it had been a mistake and apologised for the confusion, but Martins threatened to quit playing for the national team after the blunder had initially threatened his transfer to Newcastle United.

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