Adebayor returns to the party

One man stands over Togolese football like a 6’4 colossus: Emmanuel Adebayor.

The Tottenham Hotspur striker is central to everything they do and has the baggage and ego of a prima donna to boot. That said, while his team might struggle Adebayor is one of the few players in South Africa who can grab the tournament by the scruff of the neck.

Having retired from international football in the wake of the Angola tragedy, the return of Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor proved key to the qualifying triumph over 2012 hosts Gabon. Th the striker scoring the equaliser in the first leg (1-1) before firing the winner in the second (2-1).

Adebayor again made the headlines when he was initially left out of the squad for the finals, having criticised the lack of organisation and good management of the national team, but then included at the insistence of Togo's football federation president Faure Gnassingbe.

It’s said that coach Didier Six would rather concentrate on the collective than be bound to the whims of his superstar.

He’s not alone in that view because if the Confederation of African Football (Caf) had their way, Togo would not be playing in South Africa.

After the Hawks withdrew from the 2010 finals on the eve of competition, following the gun attack by Angolan separatists that killed two delegation members as the team entered Cabinda, Caf banned the Togolese federation from the next two Nations Cup finals

Fifa overturned the punishment and Togo, presented with this second chance, have returned - seeing off Kenya on the away goals ruling in the second round before that victory over Gabon by the narrowest of margins.

In six previous Nations Cup visits, Togo have never reached the knock-out stages so their aims in January will be crystal clear.

Their chances of changing that in South Africa look slim. Not only are they in a very tough group, with tournament favourites Côte d'Ivoire, Africa's second highest ranked team, Algeria, and Tunisia.

Aside from Adebayor, Togo will rely on the talents of young French-based players like 25-year-old striker Serge Gakpe, who plays for Nantes, Lille's 22-year-old forward Kalen Damessi and the Ayite brothers, Floyd (Reims) and Jonathan (Brest).

Elsewhere, midfielder Moustapha Salifou made his debut in 2000 and played in the 2006 World Cup, where he was praised for his performances. French-born Alaixys Romao played for the French national under-18 team, but switched his allegiance to Togo in 2005 and turned out for the Hawks at the World Cup in Germany.
The experience of 34-year-old Reims goalkeeper Kossi Agassa, who is one of Togo's most capped players, should also provide help and reassurance for the younger members of the team.

The Sparrow Hawks did ick up their form in the second half of 2012. After losing three and drawing one in their first four matches of 2012, Togo finished the year with three wins and a draw in their last four matches, but the quality of the opposition in South Africa will be the best of any of the four groups.

That improved form saw Togo rise 20 places in the Fifa World Rankings in November, climbing to 73rd place, the country's best position since 2009.

Perhaps it’s that form that prompts Ameyi Gabriel, the chairman of Togo's Football Association, to insist: "We're going to play without any fear."

What they will need is for someone to raise their game and do a reasonable impression of Adebayor. At least that impression will be alongside him rather than in place of him.

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