After opening their CAF Africa Cup of Nations account with a surprisingly narrow 2-1 defeat at the hands of tournament favourites Côte d’Ivoire, Togo are hoping to rebound against Algeria on Saturday in Rustenburg. A mainstay in Togo’s midfield since 2006, when he played in Les Eperviers’ only FIFA World Cup™ appearance in Germany, Alaixys Romao tells FIFA.com that the team are desperate to put their slow start to the event behind them and slip out of Group D.
“We still have two matches to play,” said the athletic 28-year old, who plays his club football in France’s Ligue 1 with Lorient. “The result of our first game was a major disappointment for us, but we must not become frustrated. We have already forgotten about the Côte d’Ivoire match and are concentrated squarely on Algeria.”
Gervinho’s 88th-minute goal was the difference in the match, which saw Yaya Toure open the scoring early before Jonathan Ayite equalised in first half injury time. It was a scrappy contest, in which Romao was booked for a tackle on the Arsenal match winner, and Togo struggled to keep up with the talent-laden Elephants. “As you could see, the Ivorian goals were the result of individual errors in our team. We will try to erase those, and we need to remain focused from beginning to end. We will also try to capitalise more on the opportunities that we create,” said the France-born Romao.
Talismanic striker Emmanuel Adebayor was as guilty as the rest of the Togolese in wasting chances in the opener, particularly in the second minute when he failed to convert when one-on-one with goalkeeper Boubacar Barry. But Romao says he and the rest of the team value the Tottenham striker’s presence no matter his goal tally. “Thanks to his great experience, he helps us a lot. Along with his physical and technical abilities, he also brings his personality. He is always a major plus for us,” he said about Togo’s all-time leading scorer.
Despite their 2006 FIFA World Cup qualification, which saw them sensationally outlast Senegal and current continental champions Zambia in qualifying, Togo are a small west African country, and so are considered outsiders to escape their opening AFCON group. But whether Les Eperviers are dreaming of ultimately winning the event, and claiming the resulting place in the FIFA Confederations Cup this summer in Brazil, they must be hoping to bring some positive headlines to a side that has been hampered in recent years by sad stories off the pitch and mediocre results on it.
Reversing the “negative spiral” of the team, most obviously in the aftermath of the Cabinda tragedy ahead of the 2010 AFCON, was one of the express purposes of another figure that is central to Togo’s rebirth and looking to impart wisdom to the side: coach Didier Six, who took over the team last year. “[Six] has brought us a lot, something different, partially because he is a new coach,” said Romao about the former France international. “It is his first experience at the head of a national team. He was a former international player, so he has a lot of knowledge that he's trying to transmit us.”
Although Romao admits that Six was “disappointed” that the team gave up a point through the late Gervinho goal, he says the group have responded positively and have been working hard to prepare for Les Fennecs, who lost their opener to Tunisia 1-0 after conceding a late goal of their own. “We need to come at the second match with freshness, and our training sessions are based on us recovering to face Algeria,” said Romao. “We know how to play the Maghreb teams. We played a friendly two months ago against Morocco, so we know what to expect.”
Romao may know more than most as he is married to a woman of Algerian descent, but he dismisses any familial concerns ahead of the contest. “We'll let the emotions and family aside for the moment. This is an important match for Togo and me, and we will give everything to win that game. As for ‘who supports who?’ it is a mixed family, so it will be 50-50, I think.”