Rewind almost three years and football was in shock at the actions of rebel activist group FLEC who opened fire at the Togolese national football team bus on their way to play in the African Cup of Nations. Three people were killed, the bus driver Mario Adjoua, media officer Stanislas Ocloo and assistant manager Abalo Amelete. Meanwhile several others on the team bus were injured including goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale and defender Serge Akakpo, the others just hid in fear; and prayed for salvation.
One of those players was Emmanuel Adebayor, the often divisive former Arsenal and Manchester City player; but above all this the nation’s top-scorer and footballing darling.
Named African Footballer of the Year in 2010 he retired in the aftermath of the incident:
"I have weighed up my feelings in the weeks and months since the attack and I am still haunted by the events which I witnessed on that horrible afternoon on the Togo team bus. We were just footballers going to play a football match and represent our country, yet we were attacked by people who wanted to kill us all. It is a moment I will never forget and one I never want to experience again."
Despite his obvious anxieties the softly spoken striker made a dramatic U-turn on this decision in November of last year after receiving assurances from the Togo Football Federation regarding his, and the rest of the teams safety.
He scored the first goal since returning from that moment of personal tragedy in the first leg of their recent Afcon qualifier with Gabon, who had impressed so many with their exploits in this year’s African Nations. He scored again in the return leg and despite a brace from former Hull City striker Daniel Cousin over the course of the tie it was Adebayor’s double that proved decisive.
Now the Tottenham striker has earned himself and his team a chance at redemption in the New Year when they travel to South Africa in pursuit of an inaugural African Nations victory.
The last edition of Africa’s premier international competition was won by Zambia, unfancied by many, against all the odds. They did so just a stone’s-throw from the site of their nations greatest ever sporting tragedy; the 1993 air disaster in Libreville that claimed the lives of all on-board their light aircraft. 30 lost souls including 18 players perished.
Zambia dedicated that victory to those who lost their lives in 1993 and went some way to banish the ghosts with their penalty shoot-out victory over Cote D’Ivoire. Togo and Adebayor now have the chance to banish some ghosts of their own.
What do you make of Emmanuel Adebayor’s incredible international career and Togo’s chance to bury demons in South Africa?
image: © Jan Solo