Saturday, 9 January 2010

Four dead and Togo say: 'We're going home.' But don't let this ruin the World Cup in South Africa

AFTER confirmation that FOUR people - including a player - died in the attack on their team bus yesterday, Togo (right) have pulled out of the African Cup of Nations and coach Hugo Velud has called for the tournament in Angola to be called off.

Overnight reports said only one man died – the bus driver – and nine were injured, two of them players, Romanian-based Serge Akakpo and Kodjovi Obilale, who plays in France.

Today comes confirmation that assistant coach Abalo Ametele, press officer Stan Ocloo and reserve goalkeeper Obilale have also died from their injuries.

Their most famous player, Manchester City's Emmanuel Adebayor, suggests the attack was a slight on the whole continent before their first World Cup, coming to South Africa in June. But it should be firmly pointed out that this atrocity happened 1,769 miles from Johannesburg, where I am now, waiting for the crucial fourth Test between England and South Africa at The Wanderers.

It's less than that, 1,552 miles, from London to Moscow. And Cabinda was always a controversial choice of venue for the Angolans. When the Portuguese withdrew from Africa in the early 1970s, leaving Mocambique, Angola and Cabinda to their own devices, the Angolans laid claim to the oil-rich enclave to their north, though it stands alone in mid-Congo.

I was on Sky News from their local studio today and I will be on tomorrow on their Sunrise programme explaining that the Cabinda shootings should not influence people coming out to South Africa for the World Cup.

The Americans, who have bought more tickets for the tournament than any other foreign nation so far (England are second, Germany third) tend to view Africa as one big country. My message? Don't panic. Nothing has happened here.

I've been in this country for a month on the current cricket tour and there's not a hint of trouble. There are no heavily armed freedom fighters in this country any more. Not since the African National Congress took charge i n 1993.

The separatists in Cabinda have been at it for 50 years, trying to take independence first from the Portuguese in 1963 and then from Angola since 1974. Three of these groups, the Movement for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (MLEC), Action Committee of the Cabinda National Union (CAUNC), and the Mayombe National Alliance (ALLIAMA), merged to form the The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) - and this 40-year-old organisation are the ones who claim to have attacked the Togo team buses yesterday.

FLEC say they were aiming for the military escort rather than the players. In truth they attacked the front of the two buses - carrying the kit - which may have saved further loss of life.

Now the Confederation of African Football says Togo never sought permission to travel from their Congo training base by bus. The Angolans insisted all teams playing in Cabinda should fly in. But they had a military presence with them from the border, so surely the Angolans and CAF were aware of Togo's arrival.

Either way, Cabinda is unlikely to host a game in this tournament, assuming it goes ahead.

Togo striker Jonathan Ayite, clearly distressed, said: "Obilale is dead and even if you bring the president and even US president Barack Obama himself, we're leaving immediately, we're going back home. Ghana and the Ivory Coast are in solidarity with us."

Obilale played for non-league French outfit Pontivy. Their spokesman Alain Le Dour said: "We have been called to give us this news but we have not yet had it in an official manner.

"It is very difficult to have more precise information. Yesterday we didn't know where he took a bullet. We were told that he was successfully operated on and we talked about a transfer to South Africa. Officially we don't know any more."

Coach Velud said of cancelling the tournament: "We can at least pose ourselves that question. It's an act of barbarism while we are here to celebrate African football.

"We left the hospital a short time ago to come to the centre for the teams in the competition. We stayed in the hospital a long time so that we could be very united.

"In these situations you become a bit paranoid, you doubt everything.

"We don't feel that the authorities are taking this very seriously.

"I don't mean that they want to hush up the matter, but almost. "

Midfielder Alaixys Romao confirmed the players were at the airport and were also encouraging other teams to pull out of the competition.

"We're waiting for the plane to return to Lome. We're also talking to the other teams in our group to try to convince them to boycott the competition too."

The Confederation of African Football may be forced to cancel all games in the disputed territory of Cabinda in an attempt to keep the tournament on track.

Togo’s game against Michael Essien’s Ghana on Monday in the oil-rich enclave has already been called off and the Ghanaians are reported to be considering withdrawing too.

Adebayor, one of the richest men in Africa given his Abu Dhabi-funded salary, convened a team meeting as captain last night to discuss playing on.

Adebayor, though tearful, was unhurt in the attack. The £100,000-a-week goal-getter said: "I think a lot of players want to leave, I don't think they want to be here because they have seen death.

"Most of the players want to go back to their families. No-one can sleep after what they have seen today. They have seen one of their team-mates have a bullet in his body, who is crying, who is losing consciousness and everything.

"We are still in shock."

Adebayor revealed: “We saw military people dressed like they were going to war and it was a little bit of a shock.

"We went through the border and got into Angola and close to the border we started hearing shooting on the bus, for no reason. Obilale got a bullet in his body. Our press and communications guy has got injured; he's not even conscious now, we don't know if he's going to survive or not.

"These are the things we keep saying, keep repeating - in Africa, we have to change our image if we want to be respected but unfortunately that's not happening.

"We have a chance with one of the biggest tournaments in the world, the World Cup. Can you imagine what's happening now? I'm disgraced and, I don't know, it's unfair."

"The thing we don't understand is why they shot on our bus, that's the question now. There's no-one who has got a reason for that. It's not only one guy, or two guys shooting one time or two times on our bus.

"Can you imagine, we have been in the middle of that for 30 minutes, even a little bit more. Our bus had been stopped and people had been shooting on our bus for 30 minutes.

"If you can imagine, the silence on the bus was unbelievable."

A statement on the official FIFA website said: “FIFA and its President, Joseph S Blatter, are deeply moved by today's incidents which affected Togo's national team, to whom they express their utmost sympathy.

“FIFA is in touch with the African Football Confederation and its President, Issa Hayatou, from which it expects a full report on the situation.


  1. well said Neal
    Its terrible what has happened in Angola but it should not affect the World Cup in South Africa ,a completely different country
    Its like saying an incident in say Poland should effect a country like Spain hosting an event

  2. You're alive Hales! Is Alex with the Performance Squad in Pretoria? Been facebooking him without much luck... I'm at The Wanderers about 30 miles away. Email me at or facebook!