Winning start hands Togo jump

A hard-fought 1-0 win over Zambia not only ensured Togo a winning start to their bid to qualifiy for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, but also a 17-place rise on June's FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. The Sparrow Hawks shrugged off being forced to play their home match on neutral ground to leap to 69th on the global ladder; their highest position since last October.

Togo surprisingly beat Senegal and Zambia to a place at the last FIFA World Cup, although several coaching changes and a considerable overhaul to the side have since occurred. One consistent has been the form of imposing forward Emmanuel Adebayor, who is now a talisman for Togolese football.

The 24-year-old's exploits for English giants Arsenal over the past two years have made him a celebrated figure in European football, and added to his importance in the national team set-up. Adebayor has been somewhat of a controversial character for Togo, battling for player rights and clashing with coaches over the extent of his role within the squad. But with age and success has come more maturity, allowing for a calmer air in the Togo squad.

Consistent support continues to come from industrious midfielder Adekanmi Olufade, who like Adebayor has his roots in nearby Nigeria, defender Dare Nibombe and France-born midfielder Alaixys Romao.

Henri Stambouli is the latest to take over the coaching reigns, following the footsteps of Otto Pfister and Stephen Keshi, who finished a second spell in charge last October when Togo failed to qualify for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations Ghana 2008. Stambouli had to endure a protracted series of negotiations before securing a contract, literally days before the match against the Zambians.

Togo, who lost to Swaziland in their second qualifier on Sunday, now hold the ambition of topping Group 11 of the African Zone preliminaries to South Africa 2010, and booking a place in the continent's final phase. Doing so would also push them towards their highest-ever position on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking; 46th set in August 2006.