Togo skipper Emmanuel Adebayor last night branded the state of the pitch at the Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit a disgrace.
His blast at tournament organisers the Confederation of African Football (CAF) came just minutes after he had led his side to a historic quarter final against Burkina Faso .
The showdown on Sunday will be staged on a field that has already been criticised by .
coaches and players during the Group C games on the surface.
“To be honest with you, I’m very sorry but it’s a disgrace for our continent to be playing on this pitch when the tournament is on the TV around the world,” says Adebayor.
“The stadium is one of the best I have played in but not the pitch.”
The former Arsenal and Manchester City striker was substituted minutes from the end of the 1-1 draw with Tunisia on Wednesday night. Earlier his run from midfield and defence splitting pass set up Serge Gakpe to give Togo the lead.
They were pegged back after half an hour when South African referee Daniel Bennett pointed to the spot after Dare Nibombe tugged down Oualid Hichri while waiting for a corner.
Togo keeper Kofi Agassi was sent the wrong way by Khalid Mouelhi. But the latter missed what could have been the winner 20 minutes from time.
Nibombe was adjudged to have fouled Saber Khalifa in the box and Bennett awarded a penalty. The decision provoked a furious reaction from the Togolese players. Three were booked as Bennett attempted to restore order. Adebayor was cautioned for knocking the referee’s hand while he tried to brandish a card.
This time Mouelhi saw his kick rebound off the right hand upright. Tunisia, who needed victory in order to progress, threw men up front in search of a winner. But Togo repelled the advances and moved into the last eight for the first time in seven ventures to the Africa Cup of Nations.
“Once again we are in Africa and the Africa Cup of Nations is a big tournament for Africa . The whole world is watching this, you can’t play on a pitch like this,” Adebayor adds.
“Those people that watch the game in Europe , they will be sending SMSs to me asking: ‘Are you playing in the bush or what?’ it’s a disgrace to our continent, we can do better".
“CAF have to sort things out. They have to solve the problem. At the end of the day we are all African and we have to be honest with ourselves, it’s a beautiful stadium but the pitch is not happening.”
Adebayor’s outburst is likely to stoke underlying tensions between CAF and the Togolese football federation. In Angola three years ago, Togo were disqualified from the competition following their withdrawal in the wake of a terrorist attack on team buses in the northern provincial enclave of Cabinda which left three people dead and nine injured.
The power brokers at the African confederation know that they will need to tread warily as the criticism appears justified.
Just before the tournament, an algae infection ravaged the pitch following torrential downpours in the area. Sand was strewn over the surface in an attempt to rectify the problem.
Zambia coach Hervé Renard said during the Group C matches: “When we came here six weeks before the tournament it was the best pitch in South Africa , I don’t know what happened.”
What will happen is two more matches. The first, on Sunday, between Togo and Burkina Faso, will place two west African minnows in contention for a spot in the semi-final in Nelspruit on 6 February.
Togo or Burkina Faso will play whoever emerges from the last eight clash on Saturday between Ghana and Cape Verde.
There’ll be a west African side in the final, that much is certain. So too is the celebration in Togo as the team takes its place at the top table of African football.
A booklet handed out to the media by the organisers at the outset of the tournament previews Togo thus: “Though the team is collectively solid, it is difficult to see them create any major upset against the Big Three of the group, Tunisia , Algeria and Cote d’Ivoire.
“Moreover, Togo have hardly been at the forefront in past editions. They have failed to pass the group stages in their seven previous appearances.”
True. But that was then. And this is Togo now.