Swaziland are hoping to draw inspiration from the first team they meet in the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers, seeking to follow the example set by tiny Togo.
Swazi coach Raoul Savoy says Togo have become the prime example for many of Africa's lesser footballing lights after their surprise qualification for the 2006 finals in Germany.
The shock progress of the West African country, with a
under five million, to the world finals is proof that the playing field in the African preliminaries will be well and truly level.
"You know what: in football we always start at 0-0. And if it turns out to be our day and our opponents have an off day, we can make something happen. But we'll have to be very good," the Swiss-born coach, a former player at Neuchatel Xamax and Yverdon Sports, told FIFA.com.
"Togo did have one or two really good foreign-based players, like (Emmanuel) Adebayor, who were able make the difference," the coach went on. "But they remain a reference point for the smaller countries."
Swaziland will open their group campaign against the Togolese at home on 6 June at the Somhlolo stadium, recently refurbished with an artificial pitch as part of FIFA's 'Win in Africa with Africa' programme. They will also have to play Zambia, while Eritrea have withdrawn from the competition.
"It's not an easy group but I think in all the African groups there are no pairings that are easy," Savoy said. "Togo are a tough team and Zambia are a very good side, who have just played in the African Cup of Nations finals.
"It will be vital for us to do well against Togo. In all the qualifying competitions your first game decides everything. If you start well then you gain the confidence for the second game and build up with peace of mind. But if you lose the first one, then there are problems."
The 35-year-old Savoy has been in his post as coach of the
Sihlangu, as the Swazi national side are known, for just
five months. "It's been good," he said of his initial
period working with the players. "I arrived here to find a
good FA with a solid structure and good organisation, who were
working very hard. We don't have a lot of talent here, we need
to work hard with the young ones but with the right spirit we can
Change of attitude
Savoy, who has also coached in Cameroon, Ethiopia and Morocco, says he has been taking pains to drill in the right mental attitude in his players before their opening qualifier with the Togolese in June.
"I think now the players are committed but know we have to work on all the other aspects. Not only on their (team) spirit but also technically, tactically and on the fitness side," the coach remarked.
Savoy will be looking for inspiration from Swaziland's small foreign legion, the handful of players who compete across the border in South Africa's Premier Soccer League.
"I follow them every week but unfortunately most of them are not playing regularly for their clubs," Savoy sighed. "But I still have confidence in their ability because they are professional players and are training very hard with their clubs. They are good players who want to do it for the nation."