By Ollie Irish
The 2010 African Cup of Nations (ACN) couldn’t possibly have had a more turbulent start, what with the Togo bus tragedy and then one of the most bonkers games in the tournament’s history.
Firstly, a few words about the shocking attack on Togo’s team coach, which killed three people and injured eight more, including goalkeeper Dodji Obilale; Obilale is currently in a stable condition in a South African hospital, having been shot in the back. Of course, Pies wishes him well, and also the other injured parties.
There have since been some confusion as to whether Togo would return to play in the ACN.
First, a senior official of the dissident group that launched the ambush expressed his “condolences”, saying rebels attacked the Togolsese bus by mistake: Rodrigues Mingas, secretary general of the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda, said his fighters had meant to attack security guards as the convoy passed through the troubled Angolan province of Cabinda.
And in the most recent development, Togo were apparently denied re-entry to play in the tournament. Togo’s sports minister had asked the Confederation of African Football to allow the team to take part after they had flown home for three days to take part in the mourning for the victims. But Caf – which reportedly wanted Togo to remain in Angola – turned down the request, on grounds that have yet to be fully established.
However, since this story broke, Togo’s Prime Minister, Gilbert Huongbo, has denied that his nation’s team ever intended to return to the ACN after the ambush. He told the BBC: “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.”
So Togo are out without kicking a ball, which is a huge shame but understandable. Politically alone, it was too perilous to allow them to remain in the country. But you have to question the wisdom of even playing matches in Cabinda, an area that is notoriously unstable. And one must also question the extent of security groundwork that was done before the tournament to ensure the safety of the participants. With the benefit of hindsight, the Togolese team should have flown straight to Cabinda city; the decision to drive there now looks like a tragic folly.
It’s a tragedy for African football, it’s a disaster for Angola 2010, and above all it’s a shame for the people of Togo, who won’t get the chance to see their stars in action in a tournament that must mean as much to them as the World Cup or European Championship means to England fans (for example).
Now, to the football. The opening match was of course overshadowed by the Togo incident. Such a shame, as it was one of the most memorable – and crazy – games I’ve ever seen. Hosts Angola were 4-0 up with 11 minutes left, but somehow contrived to concede four goals in the closing stages, gifting Mali (many people’s pre-tournament favourites) perhaps the most unlikely point in football history. All very exciting, but the level of defending was truly woeful. The best pics of the match below: