by Joseph Mattern
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Togo finished first in Africa to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, two points ahead of African favorite Senegal, with a 7-2-1 record. This is the team's first World Cup appearance ever. Manager Otto Pfister leads the club into Germany in his first year after he replaced Coach Stephen Keshi, who was knocked out of the scene following a winless outing in the African Cup of Nations tournament in Egypt. It didn't help that he has an alleged beef with star player and national hero Emmanuel Adebayor.
Togo has had several losses since they qualified for the World Cup, so it will be interesting to see which Togo team shows up in Germany. The 67-year-old Pfister brings a good deal of experience with him to the table, having coached throughout Africa. However, it seems like Keshi, who helped to build this team and led it to first place in African qualifying (he was named the African Coach of the Year), should be at the reins in World Cup play. But that ship has sailed, and Togo must now concentrate on reversing the recent trend of losses and bringing its A-game to Germany on the world's biggest soccer stage.
Star striker Adebayor led the way with 11 goals to qualify. Adebayor is a rare talent, and a guy who seems to be genuinely satisfied with his life. In December, he spoke with fifaworldcup.com. "I am very happy with my life and have no regrets," he said. "I like a good laugh and I live from day to day. That's how it's been since the day I was born. It's just the way I am." That shows a lot of maturity for a 22-year old kid who carries a nation's hopes on his back heading into Germany this summer.
In January he told BBC Sport "Since we qualified for the World Cup our heads have been a bit all over the place, but now we have calmed down and are concentrating more in training." Togo will need all the concentration it can muster this summer, especially after crashing out of the African Cup of Nations without a victory. Adebayor said also that, "We have a lot of work to do. We have to progress because we are small team."
Adebayor had differences with his team, Monaco, after he missed some training sessions with the French Club while preparing with his countrymen in Togo. He told BBC Sport "They don't want me to play for my country, but I'm ready to die for my country." He was quickly signed up by Arsenal. An immense talent such as Adebayor has many options.
Togo is ranked No. 59 in the world by FIFA, and it will be very difficult for it to advance out of Group G, with the likes of France, South Korea and Switzerland with which to contend. Anything is possible, however unlikely, and that is why they play the matches.
Outstanding Strikers are:
Emmanuel Adebayor -- Winner of Togolese Footballer of the Year award in 2004, this guy is the main reason Togo will be heading to Germany. He scored 11 goals in qualifying and he will have to play great for this team to win a match. He's tall, young and he's got tons of talent. He's got great dribbling skills and great speed, and he knows how to put the ball in the net.
Outstanding Defenders are:
Jean-Paul Abalo -- At 30, he's the old timer on the squad, and he will be the one the other players look to for guidance and leadership, as he has the most experience of anyone on the team. Togo will need all the leadership and guidance they can get for this tourney.
Togo World Cup 2006 Odds: Togo is about a 350/1 shot, and even that is probably a conservative reflection of their chances.
Strengths: Element of surprise. This team is young, inexperienced, and no one is giving it much of a chance. And that is its best chance -- that some team will take it lightly and get burned.
Weaknesses: Youth, inexperience, lack of talent. This team is over its collective head in this tournament. Maybe it'll get lucky and win a match, but don't expect a long stay in Germany for Togo. It should be noted, though, that nobody expected it to get this far in the first place. Perhaps it will continue to exceed expectations.
Togo World Cup 2006 Outlook: Look for Togo to make an early exit from the World Cup. It will be outclassed by nearly every other team and certainly the other teams in Group G.
Togo World Cup 2006 First Round Match Schedule (all times local):
Tuesday, June 13, Group G3 Korea Rep. v Group G4 Togo, in Frankfurt, 3 p.m.
Monday, June 19, Group G4 Togo v Group G2 Switzerland, in Dortmund, 3 p.m.
Friday, June 23, Group G4 Togo v Group G1 France, in Cologne, 9 p.m.
Updated Togo World Cup 2006 News: