Togo’s national team will return home and not compete in Africa’s biggest soccer tournament, captain Emmanuel Adebayor said on Sunday, after gunmen killed a squad coach and press officer in an ambush.
After the initial shock of the attack in Angola’s Cabinda region, Togo’s players and head coach all said they would remain in the competition to honour the dead, but their prime minister ordered the team home and sent a plane to bring them back.
“We had a meeting between players yesterday and we told ourselves we were football players and decided to do something nice for our country by playing to pay tribute to those who died,” Adebayor told French radio RMC on Sunday.
“Unfortunately, the head of state and the country’s authorities have made a different decision, so we will pack and go home.”
But even as the Togolese plane sat on the tarmac at the airport at Cabinda ready to take the team home, a spokesperson for the squad said a final decision had not yet been made.
“We are still talking with the players, no decision has been made yet. Everything is possible,” the spokesperson said.
Friday’s ambush shows how easily insurgents can grab world headlines with attacks on soft targets and raises questions about security for the Soccer World Cup in South Africa in June, but South African President Jacob Zuma dismissed any comparison.
Team media officer Stanislas Ocloo, assistant coach Amalete Abalo and a driver were killed when gunmen from the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda fired on the team bus in Cabinda, a territory separate from the rest of Angola.
Seven people were wounded including reserve goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale, who is now in a stable condition in a South African hospital after surgery.
The attack by a separatist group Angola’s government recently said no longer existed cast a shadow over an event supposed to show Angola at peace after years of civil war.
The Africa Cup of Nations is due to start with fireworks and champagne at a massive stadium in the capital Luanda, where the hosts play Mali in the opening match later on Sunday.
Togo were due to play Ghana on Monday.
Angola has spent $1-billion building stadiums, roads and hotels for the competition, which brings together Africa’s best national teams. The biennial tournament, which lasts until January 31, will be broadcast live around the world.
Cabinda, the scene of FLEC attacks even after Angola’s 27-year civil war ended in 2002, provides half the oil output of the country, which rivals Nigeria as Africa’s biggest producer.
Zuma arrived in Angola to attend Sunday’s opening ceremony. He stressed that his country remained 100% ready to host the World Cup, and said the Angolan attack had no bearing on the tournament in South Africa.
It was the second militant attack on a sports team in a year. In March, six policemen and a driver died when gunmen attacked a bus carrying Sri Lanka’s cricket team in Pakistan.
Despite South African assurances, security analysts said outsiders involved in June’s World Cup are unlikely to ignore the Angolan attack and will want to review security.
South Africa is the first African nation to hold the world’s biggest single-sport event. – Reuters