The African Cup of Nations was in danger of collapse on Friday night with Togo threatening to withdraw from the competition after a coach carrying the country’s football team – including Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor – was attacked by gunmen, who killed the bus’s driver and wounded six others, including two players.
It’s understood that City are keen for Adebayor to return to England – if Togo allow that – as soon as possible while several other Premier League clubs, including Aston Villa, whose midfielder Moustapha Salifou is also in the squad, have asked the Football Association to seek urgent clarification.
“We will speak to the relevant authorities on behalf of any of our clubs and try and assist them in any way we can,” an FA spokesman said.
Chelsea – who have four players at the tournament including Didier Drogba – said they remained confident that every necessary precaution would be taken by the organisers but, as with other clubs such as Arsenal, they were closely monitoring developments and there is concern that players are now exposed in such a volatile situation.
If, however, Togo carry through their threat it would put the whole competition in doubt.
There will also be deep concern at Fifa as to whether there will be any knock-on effect for the forthcoming World Cup Finals which are due to take place in South Africa, the first time it has been staged by the continent, of course and in a country that poses its own security risks.
The shooting happened in the Angolan territory of Cabinda as the coach carrying the Togo squad crossed from its base in the Republic of Congo.
The most graphic description of what then occurred was offered by Thomas Dossevi, a striker who plays for the French club, Nantes. He gave an interview to the French radio station, RMC.
“I’m okay but several players are in a bad state,” he said. “We are still in hospital. We were machine-gunned like dogs and had to remain hidden under our seats for around 20 minutes to avoid the bullets. We don’t feel much like playing the CAN Cup. Our thoughts are with our friends, the injured.”
He named goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale – who he said was “bleeding a lot” – of French amateur side GSI Pontivy and defender Serge Akakpo of Romanian club Vaslui – who he said was shot in the back – as among those injured.
“We had just crossed the border. We had filled in the border formalities and were surrounded by police. Everything was fine. Then there was a powerful burst of gunfire. Everyone dived under the seats and the police fired back.
“It felt like war had broken out. It’s shocking. When we got off the bus we were asking ourselves what was up. The official in charge of communications also stopped a bullet – he lost a lot of blood.”
Also among the injured were the goalkeeping coach and two medics. Midfielder Alaixys Romao said he felt Togo would now pull out of the competition.
"We’re not thinking yet of what could happen," said Romao, who also plays in France, for Grenoble. "But it’s true that no-one wants to play. We’re not capable of it. We’re thinking first of all about the health of our injured because there was a lot of blood on the ground.
"For the moment there is not much news because they have been taken to different hospitals. In cases like these we’re thinking of those near us, of those we love because that really could have been the end of us."
City have been in contact with Adebayor, who was unscathed, while Salifou is understood to have spoken to his brother, Eddie, who is in Togo and who reported that he was fine but traumatised.
The situation was made even more chaotic because the competition’s organisers, when contacted by reporters, originally claimed that the Togo bus had simply suffered a burst tyre.
Oil-rich Cabinda, separated from the rest of Angola by the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been embroiled in a long-running independence struggle.
Seven matches are scheduled to take place in the area, starting with Monday’s fixture between Togo and Michael Essien’s Ghana which will almost certainly be called off.
Conflict in the region officially ended in a 2006 deal with the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) but the rebel group has made several claims recently that it was behind attacks on the military and foreign workers.