No nations return for Togo

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The Independent Football

The uncertainty over Togo's involvement in the African Nations Cup was ended last night when the team failed to appear for their opening match against Ghana and they were later excluded from the tournament.

The players headed home from Angola on Sunday after a gun attack on their team bus which left three people reportedly dead last Friday, but there were then suggestions they could return and participate in the event.

The event's organisers have been largely silent on the matter but a Confederation of African Football official said yesterday afternoon that if Togo were not on the pitch come kick-off for their first game, they would be out of the competition.

"Togo have not taken official steps to come back and play the African Nations Cup," he said. "We have just heard this rumour in the press.

"The referee has received the order to blow the starting whistle and if the Togolese players are not there, they will have lost the match and will be disqualified."

The Togo players failed to take the pitch for their Group B opener, scheduled to kick off at 1830 GMT, putting an end to any lingering doubt over their involvement in the tournament.

The CAF confirmed early today that all of Togo's games had been cancelled, turning their group into a three-country affair.

The west African country's sports minister Christophe Tchao was quoted yesterday morning saying a formal request had been made to return after a three-day period of mourning but prime minister Gilbert Houngbo denied they want to re-enter the tournament.

Houngbo told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I do believe there is confusion. The information you have got, I'm afraid, might not be the most accurate.

"We have simply withdrawn our team, it is not a matter of withdrawing for the mourning period.

"The information that has been circulated on some websites saying the players are just back for three days' mourning and will then go back playing is quite wrong.

"We withdrew our team on the basis they have been the victim of a terrorist attack."

Houngbo has also hit out at the way Togo have been treated by CAF, insisting the decision to withdraw was not made in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, but after support from the tournament organisers proved non-forthcoming.

He added: "Management did not give us enough assurance. We would leave our team being exposed to similar risks. Therefore we decided to pull our team out of the competition against our will.

"We would have hoped that one could have serene discussion with the host country, with the confederation, to assess what has happened, assess what one has to do.

"We received no co-operation from the confederation in terms of any kind of assessment.

"Our analysis is that they want it [the shooting] 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."