Togo must recover from a self-inflicted wound Saturday to have a realistic chance of a second consecutive appearance at the FIFA World Cup™ finals. The Sparrowhawks host Zambia in the Ghanaian capital Accra because of a four-match home ban owing to crowd violence that left two Malian footballers injured after a CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Lome last year.
With Group 11 reduced to three countries owing to the withdrawal of Eritrea, the two fixtures between Togo and Zambia seem certain to determine who finishes first in a pool completed by minnows Swaziland. And with two fewer fixtures, the chances are remote of the second-placed team ending among the best eight runners-up in the 12-group second phase and advancing to the final qualifying phase.
The South Africa 2010 preliminaries double as eliminators for the Africa Cup of Nations Angola 2010, which means countries eliminated when the second round is completed in October face a two-year absence from competitive fare. Togo and Zambia have belatedly put their faith in French coaches, with Henri Stambouli doing a u-turn this week to take charge of the Sparrowhawks after indicating he was going to manage a third division club in his homeland. The Copper Bullets have plumped for former Ghana assistant coach Herve Renard as they seek a place among the elite of world football for the first time.
Emmanuel Adebayor scored consistently to help Togo top more fancied Senegal, Zambia and Mali and reach the FIFA World Cup finals in Germany, where they lost to Korea Republic, Switzerland and France. The Arsenal forward will once again be the key figure against an unpredictable Zambian side, the only opponent to hold eventual champions Egypt at this year's Africa Cup of Nations.
A 5-1 defeat by Cameroon in Ghana illustrated the darker side of the Zambians, who prepared for Togo by leading twice before drawing 2-2 in Libya and conceding a goal two minutes from time to lose 3-2 to Iran.