In 2006, the Togolese national team made history by qualifying for the FIFA World Cup™ for the very first time. However, Les Eperviers were unable to build on that unexpected achievement, and Germany 2006 remains the only time they have performed on football’s biggest stage.
Togo produced an impressive run of results during that qualifying campaign, none more so than a 3-1 home victory over a Senegal side who were regarded as strong favourites to win the group. In the return match in Dakar, the underdogs secured a 2-2 draw that would eventually prove crucial to their topping the pool.
This feat was all the more remarkable given that, just four years earlier, Les Lions de la Teranga had represented Africa with honour during Korea/Japan 2002, after losing on penalties to Cameroon in the final of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations just a few months earlier.
Coincidentally, the draw for the second round of African qualifiers for Qatar 2022 ensured that Togo would once again cross paths with Senegal, and in similar circumstances to the 2006 campaign: having performed creditably at Russia 2018, the Senegalese then reached the final of the 2019 Cup of Nations in Egypt, where they lost 1-0 to Algeria.
Will history repeat itself?
“In 2002, Senegal put in a great performance under the late Bruno Metsu, but they weren’t able to keep up that momentum,” Togo coach Claude Le Roy told FIFA.com. “They weren’t playing at the same level four years later.”
The experienced Frenchman continued: “The current team has a core of really good players, who feature in some of the world’s best leagues. It’s not just Sadio Mane – they also have Kalidou Koulibaly, one of the most solid defenders around, and Idrissa Gueye, a high-quality midfielder. It’s strange, because each time they appear to be on the verge of being crowned African champions, they always fall at the final hurdle.”
Le Roy is well aware of the challenge that awaits Les Eperviers when they face Aliou Cisse’s men. “If we want to have a chance of making it to Qatar, we can’t afford to drop any points during the qualifiers,” he said. “We have to first acknowledge that logic dictates that Senegal are the clear favourites in our group. They were recently Cup of Nations finalists and they’re one of the continent’s strongest teams.”
Togo’s coach Claude Le Roy reacts on the sidelines
Hard work paying dividends
Le Roy has been in charge of Togo since 2016. Over the course of four years, he has tried to improve football standards in every corner of the West African country. As well as fulfilling his duties with the senior team, the 72-year-old also helps to train the coaches of the national youth sides, making use of his significant football acumen to boost development at every level.
His main priority, of course, remains the national squad. “A new generation has come through, and my objective is to continue working with this group of players,” he explained.
“If the coronavirus had never happened, we would be on the point of finishing a preparatory training programme that we implemented to continue with work that was begun years ago. My goal is to help this team to blossom, whether that’s with me or with another coach. My approach always involves leaving solid foundations behind me after I leave.”
Le Roy first embarked on his African coaching adventure in 1985, when he took the helm of Cameroon. Around 35 years later, he is still working on the same continent. “Coaching in Africa is a demanding task,” he said. “You have to work hard and keep your feet on the ground. To succeed in this part of the world, you have to draw on your education, knowledge, culture and experience. The most important thing is to help players to develop without becoming complacent.”
Over the years, a number of assistant coaches who have worked under Le Roy in Africa have gone on to enjoy success in their own right, such as Herve Renard, who led two different countries to Africa Cup of Nations glory, Kwesi Appiah, who steered Ghana to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and current Equatorial Guinea coach Sebastien Migne.
“Their accomplishments bring joy to my heart,” said Le Roy. “I shared everything I know with Herve, who’s since won the Cup of Nations twice, with Kwesi, who was my assistant coach when I was in charge of Ghana, and with Sebastien. Ever since the start of my career, I’ve always tried to share my know-how with all of my assistants. Contributing to their success has always been important to me.”
Congo’s coach Claude Le Roy and Sebastien Migné attends the 2015 African Cup of Nations
Given the absence of several African powerhouses from Russia 2018, such as Algeria, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire, the Normandy-born tactician expects to see normal service resumed in 2022.
“First of all, I hope my opinion won’t be misinterpreted because one of the favourites I’m going to mention is in the same group as us,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, I regard the two finalists from the most recent Cup of Nations, Algeria and Senegal, as front-runners. They’re very strong teams.
“After that, there are the nations who often manage to qualify, like Nigeria, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Morocco, who have some elite players, as well as South Africa, who will be tough opponents for the teams in their section, and even Mali, who seem capable of making the step up this time around.”