For goalkeeper Kossi Agassa, 2012 is already shaping up to be an important year. His club, Reims, are seemingly on course for promotion to Ligue 1, while he also harbours dreams of a return to the FIFA World Cup™ with Togo.
Reims lie second in Ligue 2 and have their sights set on rejoining France’s top flight, where they enjoyed one of the most successful spells in their history. Indeed, in the post-war period, Reims won the national league six times and twice finished runners-up to Real Madrid in the UEFA European Cup.Some fans may feel that those exploits will never be matched, but a return to the elite would certainly be a step in the right direction.
“We’re not playing for promotion,” Agassa told FIFA.com. “Our objective is to ensure we avoid relegation as quickly as possible. Then we’ll see whether or not we’re in a good position.”
Reims’ recent performances have been nothing if not encouraging, but with half the season still to play, the players are understandably keen to keep their feet on the ground. “The club is restructuring little by little,” explained Agassa, who arrived in Europe in 2002.
“It’s my fourth year here [at Reims] and I’ve really noticed a change. Everyone, at every level, is trying to do as much as they can to help us thrive in French football. Every player wants to play at the highest level.”
At the age of 33, Agassa believes he still has the ability to shine in Ligue 1 and backed up those claims with some fine displays in Reims’ impressive run in the 2010/11 Coupe de France. After knocking out Montpellier, the Ligue 2 side defeated Rennes in an exhilarating encounter, with Agassa saving two penalties. Reims eventually fell to Nice in the quarter-finals, but the cup run provided a taste of success and only increased their desire to return to the top tier of French football.
2006 memories, 2014 dream
Aside from Reims’ possible promotion push, spring 2012 will also be a crucial period for Agassa at international level, with the second round of African qualifiers for Brazil 2014 looming on the horizon. Togo overcame Guinea-Bissau to seal their progress to the second round, and after a testing few years, the west Africans can finally dare to dream again.
“Togolese football is in a transitional phase,” said the former Etoile Filante keeper. “We’re preparing for future challenges, such as the CAN in 2013 and the 2014 World Cup. We failed to make it to the CAN in 2012, but sometimes you need a year like that to make you bounce back stronger.”
Emmanuel Adebayor’s return to the national set-up is an encouraging sign for Togo, as Agassa explained. “He’s the biggest star in the team, and we missed him during his absence,” said the keeper, who has 52 international caps to his name.
“We’re now back on track and we can aim higher than we’ve been able to for the past two years. Emmanuel and I are among the senior players in the team. I’m one of the oldest and we’re there to guide the younger players, whose job it will be to carry the national team in years to come.”
Agassa was No1 throughout Togo’s maiden FIFA World Cup campaign in 2006, so he is well aware of the opportunity that lies before him and his team-mates. “It was an honour to play at the World Cup,” he said. “Our performance against France, particularly in the first half, is a great memory for me.”
Eventual finalists France won that first-round tie 2-0, but Agassa will no doubt remember the match with fondness. He pulled off one of the saves of the tournament, thwarting David Trezeguet from point-blank range after keeping out Florent Malouda’s initial effort.
“I’ve never played in the Champions League or Europe League, but I can say I’ve played in a World Cup, and that’s a competition that trumps them all,” said Agassa, clearly excited at the prospect of returning to the world stage with Togo. “Once you've tasted it you only want one thing, and that’s to go back there again. We need to do as well as we possibly can in our qualifiers and give ourselves a strong chance of experiencing it all once again.”