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Black History Month: Adebayor puts Togo on the map

His goal scoring prowess led Togo to its first ever World Cup in 2006.

Togolese forward Emmanuel Adebayor (L) i Photo credit should read PASCAL PAVANI/AFP via Getty Images

Emmanuel Adebayor was coming up through the ranks in the early 2000s, becoming one of the most coveted goalscorers in Europe in 2005. He was a tall striker, which made him incredible in the air but also meant he could use his physique to get around defenders. He may have had a hot streak, but he could combine with his teammates to produce consistent results.

However, on the international level, he had a bit more pressure. A product of Togo, he had set in his mind one goal: lead his nation to the World Cup. For such a small country in the competitive and underrated African confederation, it was a tall task to do, yet at 20 years of age and playing for Monaco, he was the most famous Togolese player in soccer. He knew that he had to bring the team to glory with his goal scoring.

Togo entered World Cup qualifying in the first round for Africa, which was a two-legged series against Equatorial Guinea in the fall of 2003. However, for the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, World Cup qualifying also served as qualification for the confederation’s main tournament. The winner of each second round group would advance to the World Cup, while the top 3 finishers in each of the 5 groups would qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations. Egypt, serving as Africa Cup of Nations hosts, would automatically qualify despite their finish.

Adebayor, to that point, had only scored 2 goals for his national team, both coming during qualification for the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations (Togo did not qualify). However, seeing that this was a chance to put Togo (and himself) on the map, he wanted to get off to a great start. After Togo dropped its first leg 1-0 on the road to Equatorial Guinea, Adebayor was determined to make an impact in the second leg. In the 43rd minute, Adebayor scored a goal to put Togo up 1-0 at home and level the series. Togo would score in the 53rd minute to hold on for a 2-0 win and a 2-1 win on aggregate to advance to the second round.

Togo was drawn into Group 1 with Senegal (who had represented Africa at the 2002 World Cup), Zambia, Mali (who finished 4th at the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations), Congo, and Liberia. While the top 3 qualified for the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, only the group winner went to Germany for the World Cup. Emmanuel Adebayor wanted to be a part of that group. Qualification got off to a rough start with a 1-0 loss to Zambia on the road in June 2004, but Les Éperviers (The Sparrowhawks) rebounded with a 3-0 upset over Senegal. Adebayor scored the 1st goal in that match to pace Togo. They had a surprising draw against Liberia in July to earn only 4 points from its first 3 matches.

The two qualifiers they had in Fall 2004 were the Emmanuel Adebayor show. He score all 3 goals for Togo in a 2-0 home win over Congo and a 1-0 home win against Mali. Togo had 10 points from 5 matches, tied atop the Group 1 standings with Senegal and Zambia. At that point, Togo just wanted to keep pace, waiting for its chance to steal points from one of the two teams. Each team won its match in March 2005, which set up a big June where Togo would face Zambia at home and then Senegal on the road.

Adebayor was ready for these matches. He knew it was a chance for Togo to separate themselves from the pack. Against Zambia, Emmanuel put on a display, scoring the 1st goal and also a stoppage time blast as Togo beat Zambia 4-1. His last minute goal eliminated Mali from contention for the World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations. Meanwhile, Senegal had a scoreless draw against Congo, which meant they desperately needed points when Togo and Senegal met in Dakar 2 weeks later. Togo took the early lead, but Senegal had 2 goals 15 minutes apart to make it 2-1. Emmanuel Adebayor knew he needed to come up with something to salvage a result, and he brought The Sparrowhawks back with the equalizer in the 71st minute.

Togo was in 1st place in the standings entering the final 2 matches, but Senegal and Zambia still had the chance to catch them. Senegal and Zambia played each other in September 2005, while Adebayor and Togo faced last place Liberia. Adebayor had 2 goals, the opener in the 52nd minute and the final goal in stoppage time of a 3-0 victory. Meanwhile, Senegal beat Zambia 1-0 to set up a final matchday scramble. All 3 teams had qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations, but for Senegal and Togo, a World Cup spot was on the line. Togo was ahead of Senegal by 2 points and Zambia by 4, so they couldn’t afford a loss. They needed a win.

Facing Congo, Togo went down 1-0 early, but again it was Adebayor to the rescue. He scored in the 40th minute to equalize the match, giving Togo a chance. Congo scored again to take the lead in the 56th minute, but then 2 goals from Mohamed Abdel-Kader in the 60th and 70th minutes gave Togo the win and the glory. Togo was going to the World Cup. Senegal ended up winning their match against Mali, but it didn’t matter. Togo topped the group with 23 points, 2 ahead of Senegal’s 21. Emmanuel Adebayor and Togo were going to Germany.

Emmanuel Adebayor, over the course of that qualifying campaign, led all scorers in qualifying with 11 goals for his country, 2 more than the Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba. Some came when they needed it the most. They qualified once again for the Africa Cup of Nations after missing out on the 2004 edition. And most importantly, they qualified for the first World Cup in their nation’s history. Celebrations lasted well into the night and the days after as a nation’s dreams came true. And Adebayor was the man who carried the team on his back to glory.

Adebayor would sign with Arsenal in January 2006 just before linking up with Togo to play in the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations. They didn’t do well, finishing last in a group with Cameroon, DR Congo, and Angola. They continued to the World Cup, where they also finished last in a tough group with South Korea, Switzerland, and France. They had some issues with Togo’s football federation, having a dispute over wages that threatened their match against Switzerland. For Adebayor, it was his ability to put the team on his back that got them there, where the Togolese national anthem was played for 1 billion people to watch and for their players to sing. He scored 32 goals in his career for Togo. Over a third of them came during one qualifying campaign, and it brought Adebayor and Togo to glory in the mid-2000s.


For more Black History Month stories, check out our Black History Month hub. We will be bringing a story each day this month to highlight some of the biggest moments in black American and world soccer history.