LOME/MANAMA (Reuters) - The revelation that the Togo team which played Bahrain in a friendly two weeks ago was in fact a group of imposters masquerading as the national side has been met with widespread bemusement in the soccer world.
But in Togo, where the sport has suffered years of setbacks, the clamour for an explanation is growing louder by the day.
“I feel hurt, profoundly shocked by this criminal behaviour. People who are capable of such actions are capable of the worst and should be made an example of,” said Antoine Folly, a member of an interim committee of the Togolese football federation.
Togo is still reeling from a January attack on its national team at the African Nations Cup in Angola in which gunmen killed a driver, the assistant manager and a media officer and injured several others.
The federation said on Monday that Tchanile Bana, an assistant coach of Togo’s soccer team, has been suspended for three years for taking the “fake” side to Bahrain.
Bana’s record is far from clean and he has already been censured for a similar scam. Only in July, the federation suspended him for two years for organising a match in Egypt without the knowledge of Togo’s sports authorities.
But few in Togo believe Bana alone is responsible, with some pointing to the federation itself.
“We cannot stop at sanctioning Tchanile Bana alone. Tchanile cannot have acted alone in either of these cases,” Folly told Reuters.
“All light must be shed on this matter to unmask and sanction any accomplices he may have at the heart of the federation,” he said.
On Tuesday, one of Folly’s colleagues on the federation’s interim board — appointed by FIFA in the absence of successful elections for federation members — announced his resignation.
Martial Akakpo told local radio that he felt “overwhelmed by the scale of the crises the federation keeps running into.”
The Bahrain match was, by all accounts, disappointing.
Turnout was low, with only a hundred or so spectators in the stands of Bahrain’s National Stadium. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the still searing summer heat of the Arab Gulf put even die-hard fans off from watching their team.
But the vice-president of Bahrain’s football association said it soon became clear that something was amiss.
“It was a weak performance. Before we played everything seemed alright, but when we played the game it became clear something was wrong,” said Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa al-Khalifa.
At first, Sheikh Ali said he thought the team were perhaps just reserve players, but their performance was so bad that soon questions arose if this was the same side that until recently featured Manchester City forward and 2008 African Player of the Year Emmanuel Adebayor.
“I didn’t think these were the Togo players I read about in the newspapers...it was a bad game with bad players,” said a Bahraini who watched the game.
Togolese media report that for the July game in Egypt, Bana had picked the players from his training centre for aspiring footballers and passed them off as his national team, and there is speculation he did the same again in Bahrain.
“A photograph of the fake national team that played in Bahrain shows players that everyone knows and who wander about Lome (the Togolese capital) all day long since they’ve come back from Bahrain,” wrote the private Togolese daily Forum de la Semaine on Monday.
“Is it that difficult to ... interrogate these player so that they reveal the names of those who took them to Bahrain?”
For Bahraini fans, there may be another more burning question they want answered, an explanation about why their team only won the match 3-0.
Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky in Dubai, editing by Ed Osmond