In the space of just one month, Togo have undergone a near complete reversal of their footballing fortunes. Les Eperviers (The Hawks) leapt 73 spots to move from their lowest-ever FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking of 125th in September to 52nd in October - just six places behind their highest-ever position.
Togo reached their peak in August 2006, when they had just appeared at the FIFA World Cup™. Although they lost all three matches at Germany 2006 and made headlines for all the wrong reasons - with their German coach Otto Pfister resigning and then withdrawing his resignation just three days before his team was to play their opening game - they had arrived on the world stage and were ranked 46th in the world and tenth in Africa.
Since then, their fortunes have been on the wane. They failed to qualify for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 2008 and 2012 and withdrew from the 2010 tournament after a rebel attack on their team bus. They also failed to reach the World Cup in 2010 and 2014. Frequent coaching changes did not help matters and when Tchakala Tchanile took over the coaching reins from former French international Didier Six in June, Togo sat 88th overall and 22nd on the continent.
Tchanile was the first Togolese coach to be entrusted with the national team since 2009. Since then, five foreigners guided the side, but none of them managed to turn the tide. Tchanile's first two matches in charge of the team ended in defeats: 2-1 against Guinea and 3-2 at home by Ghana. Both games were qualifiers for the 2015 CAF Africa Cup of Nations and saw Togo rooted to the bottom of their group with zero points. The defeats also saw them plummet down the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, dropping 38 places to 125th and 35th in Africa, behind countries like Lesotho and Niger.
In October, Les Eperviers played their next two AFCON qualifiers against Uganda, who were at the time ranked 79th and were topping Group E with four points after securing an excellent 1-1 draw in Ghana and defeating Guinea. In the away leg in Kampala, Donou Kokou gave the visitors a 1-0 victory, while Serge Akakpo scored in the return leg in Lome a week later to give the Togolese another 1-0 win. The six points took Togo into second place in the group – just two points behind pace-setting Ghana and two more than Guinea and Uganda. The victories resulted in the team's move to 52nd in the world.
Togo midfielder Dove Wome, who plays his club football for SuperSport United in the South African Premier League, said the turn-around happened because the players believed in themselves: “We knew that we had to win both in Uganda and at home. We also knew that we had the quality to do so. Every single player worked really hard to achieve the result.
“It was the team that brought the change. The coach is important in terms of tactics and such, but at the end of the day, it is really the team that needs to do the work on the field. We have to play as a team, not as individuals, and we did just that.
"I think Togo's footballing future is very bright. We have good players and the national team coach has embarked on a program to bring in young players. I think that will be good for the national team in the long run."
Wome is confident Togo will qualify for the AFCON finals in Morocco. “We advanced to the quarter-finals for the first time in 2013 and now we are looking forward to achieving even more," he said. "We are playing against Guinea at home and away to Ghana. If we manage to beat Guinea, we should have enough points to qualify for the finals. That is our goal.”
A victory in either of the matches would see Les Eperviers pick up more FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking points and could well result in yet a further move towards the top – possibly even moving above the 46th place they held in August 2006.