RUSTENBURG, South Africa, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Emmanuel Adebayor has had a problematic first half of the season for both his country Togo and his club Tottenham Hotspur but is hoping Saturday’s goal in their 2-0 African Nations Cup win over Algeria is a pointer to a brighter future.
The singularly most important figure in Togo’s soccer history now seems fully fit and appears to be at peace with national coach Didier Six and the Togolese football federation.
He also looked more like his old self on Saturday, scoring the opener in Togo’s shock win in their crucial Group D match at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace and playing an influential role throughout the game.
“I am very happy especially as it was backs to the wall. We knew that to qualify, we must win this match against Algeria at all costs,” the striker told reporters.
Togo lost 2-1 to Ivory Coast in their opening group game, but this win keeps alive their chances of advancing to the knockout round for the first time after seven previous failed attempts.
“After the defeat against Ivory Coast, we all discussed what went wrong and questioned ourselves. But we attacked well today, played well and I congratulate all the players,” Adebayor said.
While injury disrupted his start to the Premier League season with Tottenham, a conflict over bonuses led to considerable doubt that he would be part of the Togo squad in South Africa. Six originally left him out before the FA president overruled the Frenchman and ordered him to be included.
The move appeared justified as Adebayor seemed rejuvenated against Algeria, scoring with all his old magisterial confidence and providing the platform for only their third win in 19 matches in the finals dating back to 1972. Substitute Dove Wome sealed the victory with an injury time second goal.
Perhaps, equally symbolically, it was their first victory in the finals since the attack on their team bus before the start of the 2010 finals in Angola following which they withdrew from the competition.
The attack by separatists in Angola’s Cabinda province left two Togolese dead and severely injured a reserve keeper who was forced to retire.
While never forgetting the tragedy, Adebayor and his team mates were delighted with their victory which gives them hope of progressing in the tournament.
“I am happy to have scored my first goal in the final stage of the African Cup of Nations. I hope there will be others,” he said.
”I am aware that Togolese football is still sick but you know very well that we have experienced tragedies in recent years.
”We lost a coach, press officer and our third goalkeeper will definitely never play football again following the attack.
”But after losing to Ivory Coast, a player had to tap his fist on the table and it was me. I am the captain and leader of the team and now I think everything is back more or less in order.
“I hope we can continue like this. If the government and the people support us, we can try to do something extraordinary for our country. We are not far from an historic qualification.”
Togo’s victory sealed Ivory Coast’s place in the last eight as group winners and at the same time eliminated Algeria, the second highest ranked African team in the tournament.
Ivory Coast have six points, Togo and Tunisia three and Algeria none with Adebayor and his team mates able to control their own fate. Togo will qualify if they win against Tunisia in Nelspruit on Wednesday and a draw will see them through with a better goal difference. (Editing by Patrick Johnston)