The terror-hit African Cup of Nations got underway in Angola last night with claims that Chelsea’s Didier Drogba may be forced to pull out of the tournament.
In the aftermath of the attack, Drogba, the Ivory Coast captain, spoke to Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor and that conversation was related to the rest of the Togo team, who yesterday withdrew from the Cup and flew out of Angola under orders from their nation’s Prime Minister.
Adebayor’s Togo team-mate Alaixys Romao, who plays for the French Ligue 1 club Grenoble, said: "There was a long discussion between Drogba and Adebayor. Drogba said he was fully aware of the psychological state that the Togo squad was in, and he too was not ready to play in this African Nations Cup."
Drogba will, in all likelihood, have no choice but to play after Ivory Coast, who face Burkina Faso today, came under intense pressure from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to stay in the tournament.
The competition was plunged into disarray by Friday’s attack on the Togo team who, having overturned their original decision to withdraw, were ordered home by Prime Minister, Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo.
Romao also said that there would have been a different reaction if a bigger nation than Togo had been attacked. "If it had been Ivory Coast or Cameroon; or if Samuel Eto’o or Drogba had taken a bullet, the competition would have been stopped immediately," he said.
Adebayor told a French radio station yesterday that the Togo team had decided to stay and play in the tournament before the order came from Houngbo. It is understood that Manchester City are sending a plane to pick him up from Lome, the capital of Togo. The club do not yet know whether he will be eligible to play for them against Everton on Saturday, given that Togo have effectively defied FIFA.
Describing his feelings during the attack, Adebayor said: "On Friday at 14.30, we were all dead on that bus. We sent our last messages to our families. We called our family to say our last words. I told myself: 'If you’re still there on the ground in Angola, why not play?' The authorities decided we should return home, so we will return."
In a press conference, Togo Prime Minister Houngbo said: "So far we have not had a single call, even a call of sympathy from CAF.”
While the governments of Namibia and Botswana have proposed that their national teams replace Togo, the favoured plan is to proceed with just three teams in Group B: Ghana, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.
Ivory Coast’s Bosnian coach, Vahid Halilhodzic, said: "The players are a bit scared, but not me. I had good training - I lived through much worse things in Mostar (he was shot in the conflict there in Bosnia). Bbut we want to play because we don’t want to surrender to terrorists.”