Kick-off: Saturday, November 14, 2009 at 14:30 GMT. Kegue Stadium, Lome, Togo
Gabon Still Aiming For Top Spot
Thanks to an incredibly strong start for Gabon and an uncharacteristically poor one from the other teams in Group A, the Panthers have managed to hang on to top spot for most of the qualifiers before losing twice in a row to Cameroon to let the Indomitable Lions roar past them. Now the situation is simple, with one match to go for both teams and one point separating them, Gabon absolutely need to win if they want to keep their hopes alive for the World Cup next summer.
In their first encounter on June 8, the two teams faced each other in Libreville and Gabon humiliated the Sparrow Hawks by winning 3-0. They are hoping to duplicate that feat on Saturday. If the Gabonese win their game they will need Cameroon to stumble against a valiant Moroccan team who will likely either draw or be beaten by them. Either way, the Panthers have already qualified for the African Cup of Nations in Angola as they have 9 points and are second in the group, behind Cameroon (10pts) and above Togo (5pts) and Morocco (3pts).
National team coach Alain Giresse called up pretty much the same squad that has got him this far except for Stephane Nguema who is suspended. The French manager will have no trouble keeping his very young group motivated as the country has never been this close to the world's biggest stage.
Battling For The Last Ticket To Angola
Togo's joint qualifying campaign has been a disaster to say the least. Long seen as one of the favourites with Cameroon to repeat their 2006 feat and go back to the World Cup, the Sparrow Hawks have disappointing their supporters. Led by Manchester City's Emmanuel Adebayor, the team is made of the image of its captain, capable of the best and the worst. They will have to step up their game on Saturday and win or hope the Indomitable Lions do the job for them and beat Morocco.
Togo could afford to lose this game and still make it to Angola but the Sparrow Hawks face another problem, with the public opinion of the team in their country degrading with every loss. Seen as spoiled brats and overpaid slackers, Adebayor, Dossevi and company will have to prove to the public on Saturday that they are worthy of their support.
After being humiliated 5-1 by Bahrain, the Sparrow Hawks will have to be at their very best this Saturday at the Kegue Stadium to ensure themselves a spot at the African Cup of Nations.
Giresse received some bad news as youngster Alexandre Ndoumbou did not show up for international duty with the Panthers on Tuesday morning. After further investigation it turned out the 17-year-old wanted to wait until he had a few professional games under his belt before featuring for Gabon. Stephane Nguema will not feature and Giresse will now certainly not call up any other players three days prior to the decisive match.
Squad: Didier Ovono Ebang, Boris Nguema, Paul Loussoueke, Moise Brou Apanga, Bruno Ecuele Manga, Georges Ambourouet, Aymar Moro, Erwin Nguema, Arsene Do Marcolino, Rodrigue Moundounga, Ernest Akouassaga, Cedric Moubamba, Thierry Issiemou, Paul Kessany, Bruno Zita Mbanangoye, Arsene Copa, Alain Djissikadie, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Daniel Cousin, Fabrice Do Marcolino, Eric Mouloungui, Roguy Meye, Willy Aubameyang.
Probable starting XI: Ovono Ebang - Akouassaga, Moundounga, Ambourouet, Ecuele Manga - Kessany, Mbanangoye, Moubamba - Do Marcolino, Cousin, Aubameyang.
Already without their suspended goalkeeper Obilale Kodjovi who will be replaced by youngster Baba Tchagouni, French manager Hubert Velud surprised many by not calling National Team mainstay Thomas Dossevi (Nantes) for the last game of the qualifiers. But the worst news for the Sparrow Hawks was that Mani Sapol was in a terrible car accident that left his younger brother dead, also killing another Togolese international, Mamah Zougou Ibrahim. Sapol and Zougou were both visiting their families before joining the Sparrow Hawk's bunker. There's no telling what this will do to their mental state come Saturday.
Squad: Kossi Agassa, Tchao Kokou, Oukpedjo Abourahmane, Baba Tchagouni, Tawali Magnima, Serge Akakpo, Assimiou Toure, Mamah Gafar, Kacla Eninful, Akimsola Boussari, Zangaba Abass, Alaixys Romao, Komlan Amewou, Mani Sapol, Guillaume Brenner, Moustapha Salifou, Wome Dove, Floyd Ayite, Serge Gakpe, Emmanuel Sheyi Adebayor, Jonathan Ayite, Kpatoumbi Liyabe, Kokou Peniel Mlapa.
Probable XI: Agassa - Akakpo, Toure, Tawali, Boussari - Romao, Salifou, Ayite - Adebayor, Ayite, Gakpe.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Alaixys Romao - A great player in a very bad team. Romao has impressed in Ligue 1 this season so far despite playing for a weak club in Grenoble Foot 38. That's saying something. The man who plays in any part of the midfield with equal talent has been extremely frustrated this year and will have a bigger role with the Sparrow Hawks in games to come and hopefully he will get a chance to shine on Saturday.
Bruno Ecuele-Manga - An unknown player just six months ago and already a leader in Alain Giresse's team. The youngster made the transition from the second division to the French elite seamlessly and is still impressing after ten matches this season. His performances each week show why Jose Mourinho, a big fan of African players in general and this one in particular, has made the trip to watch him play twice this year.
Gabon is just a better team at the moment, with a much better dynamic, whereas Togo needs a change in institution more than they need coaching changes.
Togo 1-3 Gabon
Massaër Ndiaye, Goal.com