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The Sparrow Hawks will host the Atlas Lions in a match that will make or break the qualifying hopes of each nation, with both teams are looking to close the gap on surprise group leaders Gabon.

Sunday, September 6, 2009. 15:30 CET
Stade de Kegule, Lome, Togo.


Everything To Play For

Jean Thissen’s men began World Cup qualifying brightly by beating a highly rated Cameroon side that had made it to the final of the 2008 African Cup of Nations in Ghana. As fate would have it, the World Cup qualifying match between the two countries was actually played in Accra, as Togo was still serving a ban due to violence that erupted at after their encounter with Mali in an earlier round.

As brilliant as their 1-0 win over the Indomitable Lions on neutral territory was, the celebrations were short lived because the Sparrow Hawks followed it up with a lamentable display in Libreville, where Gabon humbled them 3-0. The poor performance was largely attributed by the Togolese press to tactical decisions made by their Belgian coach, but it must be said that the players on the pitch didn’t do much to merit a better result.

The situation deteriorated further thereafter, and Togo travelled to Morocco for one of their most important matches of the campaign without having gone through a proper training camp as it had been cancelled due to problems between the coach, the players and the country’s FA. Thankfully for them, the administrative issues didn’t cost them as dearly as they could have - they escaped Rabat with a 0-0 draw that led to Roger Lemerre’s sacking.

If Togo are to qualify for their second World Cup in a row then they have no choice but to win this weekend’s qualifier versus their North African opponents and hope that Cameroon can nick points off the Gabonese Panthers, who have taken Group A by storm. That would certainly be the best way to celebrate their return to Lome.

It’s Now Or Never For Morocco

Boasting some of the most skilled and technical players on the continent, Morocco have recently developed the unenviable trait of disappointing their supporters and baffling analysts. Their World Cup qualifying campaign could not have started in more catastrophic fashion as they were humbled in their own backyard by Alain Giresse’s Gabon, primarily due to the uninspired squad selection policies of the now departed Roger Lemerre, and poor defensive positioning of their centre-backs.

The next match against Cameroon saw them utilise a different back line, which bore fruit. Ironically their strike force underperformed in the match and wasted some clear-cut scoring opportunities that would have given them a legitimate chance of qualifying for South Africa 2010.

Although a goalless draw in Yaounde was hardly a bad result to collect, many Atlas Lions fans couldn’t help but think that an opportunity was wasted.

Those thoughts were justified further as the North African side saw fate turn its back on them when they were once again unable to notch a home win in the last round of qualifying.

Even though some may point to Mounir El Hamdaoui’s penalty miss as the main reason they couldn’t achieve victory, the truth of the matter is that they played lacklustre football and were sabotaged by a coach lacking audacity and who refused to make the attack-minded substitutions that could have changed the game.

Now, with a new technical staff headed by Hassan Moumen put in place by the Moroccan FA, it is time to see whether the squad is ready to weather the storm in Lome. While their qualifying chances have significantly dimmed, the players have all claimed that they will fight so long as they aren’t mathematically ruled out.

They have no choice if one considers that they face the very real possibility of not only missing out on a trip to South Africa, but also on one to Angola for the 2010 African Cup of Nations. Such a sorry scenario would have been hard to envision when qualifying got underway.

FORM GUIDE

Togo

June 6: Gabon 3-0 Togo

March 28: Togo 1-0 Cameroon

February 11: Burkina Faso 1-1 Togo

November 19: Togo 1-0 Rwanda

October 11: Togo 6-0 Swaziland

Morocco

August 12: Morocco 1-1 DR Congo

June 20: Morocco 0-0 Togo

June 7: Cameroon 0-0 Morocco

March 31: Angola 0-2 Morocco

March 28: Morocco 1-2 Gabon

TEAM NEWS

Togo

In terms of squad strength, the most important development for the Togolese is the return of leading scorer Emmanuel Adebayor, who missed the Rabat match-up due to a yellow card accumulation. Other than that there have not been significant changes to the team, besides the addition of defender Boussari Akimsola, who happens to ply his trade in Morocco with Difaa Hassani El Jadida.

Squad: Kossi Agassa (Istres), Dodo Obilale (Pontivy), Cedric Mensah (Free), Atsu Mawugbe (Maranatha), Mamah Gaffar (FC Sheriff), Assimiou Toure (Leverkusen), Serge Akakpo (Vaslui), Nibombe Dare (FC Timisoara), Boussari Akimsola (DH Jadida), Tamani Manima (Gomido), Mango Senah (Marseille), Euloge Ahodikpe (FC Lombard), Floyd Ayite (AS Nancy), Alaixys Romao (Grenoble), Senaya Junior (Dubai SC), Moustapha Salifou (Aston Villa), Hamilton (Sport Recife), Mani Sapol (Al Ittihad), Wome Dove (Maranatha),Razak Boukari (Lens), Thomas Dossevi (Nantes), Emmanuel Adebayor (Manchester City), Adekamni Olufade (Racing Gent), Kader Coubadja (Al Dharfa), Serge Gakpe (AS Monaco), Jonathan Ayite (Nimes), Kpatoubi Liyabi (ASKO de Kara)

Morocco

Hassan Moumen has been forced to make two last minute changes to his team as it was revealed earlier this week that Genoa’s Houssine Kharja and Feyenoord’s Karim El Ahmadi would be unable to report to camp due to injuries sustained playing with their club sides. They have been replaced with Force Armee Royales’ Issam Raki and Wydad Athletic Club’s Mohammed Berrabeh.

The addition of two players based in the domestic league is no coincidence considering many onlookers criticised the over reliance on European-based talent under Roger Lemerre, when it is well known that locals have a tendency to perform better in Africa since they have experience participating in important club matches throughout the continent.

Squad: Karim Fegrouch (Wydad Casablanca), Nadir Lamyaghri (Wydad Casablanca), Khalid Askri (FAR Rabat), Jamal Alioui (FC Sion), Aissam El Adoua (Lens), Mehdi Amine El Moutaoui (Clerment Foot), Amine Erbati (Al Wahda), Hicham Mahdoufi (Olympique Khouribga), Abdessalam Ouaddou (Nancy), Mohamed Oulhaj (Raja Casablanca), Mbark Boussoufa (RC Anderlecht), Rachid Hamdani (Clermont Foot), Youssef Safri (Qatari), Adil Taarabt (QPR), Issam Raki (FAR), Mohammed Berrabeh (Wydad Casablanca) Jaouad Zairi (Olympiakos), Merouane Zemmama (Hibernian),  Mustapha Allaoui (Guingamp),  Abdessalam Benjelloun (Hibernian), Marouane Chamakh (Bordeaux), Mounir El Hamdaoui (AZ Alkmaar), Youssef Hadji (Nancy)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Togo

Emmanuel Adebayor’s lucrative move to Manchester City is going incredibly well. The lanky frontman has started the English Premier League season in blistering form, scoring a perfect three winning goals in three games. Now he’ll look to translate that same efficiency to an important victory for his country, where he is a national hero already.

Morocco

Marouane Chamakh’s on-off transfer saga that linked him to Arsenal, Sunderland, West Ham and many others certainly shone a bright light on him at the start of the French Ligue 1 season, but the player responded to the extra scrutiny better than anyone could have imagined, scoring goals three goals in four games and providing one assist for Bordeaux, where he is set to see out his contract that expires next June. He had a brief fallout with the team near the end of Lemerre’s tenure but will be eager to prove his worth in the national team jersey once more.

PREDICTION


Morocco’s latest 1-1 draw against the Democratic Republic of Congo did anything but inspire confidence in a slumping team that has been looking shaky at the back for quite some time. However, the prospect of potentially missing out on the African Cup of Nations will provide enough desperation for them to fight tooth and nail to at least get a draw versus the Togolese, who have a reputation for inconsistency.

Togo 1-1 Morocco

Rami Ayari, Goal.com

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