Rustenburg - Emmanuel Adebayor has a chance to lead Togo to the African Cup of Nations quarterfinals for the first time on Wednesday, while already qualified Ivory Coast may leave out captain Didier Drogba again.
Togo will face Tunisia in Nelspruit needing at least a draw to finally get past the group stage. It would be the first time in eight appearances that Togo would advance.
“I am excited that Togo is ever so close to a historic qualifier,” Adebayor said.
Tournament-favorite Ivory Coast, last year's runner-up, has already secured first place in Group D, so the match against Algeria in Rustenburg will allow coach Sabri Lamouchi to make more changes to his lineup. He said he still doesn't know if he will bench Drogba for a second straight match.
“I still haven't decided who will play, but definitely we will see new faces in the lineup against Algeria,” Lamouchi said through a translator. “Because of the situation we are in, I'll be able to use some of our youngsters.”
Ivory Coast, seeking its first title in more than 20 years, won the first two matches and has six points, three more than Togo and Tunisia. It won't be surpassed even if it loses to Algeria because it has the tiebreaker advantage against Togo and Tunisia.
Lamouchi benched Drogba and other regular starters in the team's 3-0 win over Tunisia on Saturday, saying he didn't feel they were ready after a lackluster performance in the opener against Togo, against whom the Elephants needed a late winner.
Lamouchi said Drogba was fully fit and the decision about whether he will play will not be based on his physical condition. The coach also said the rest of the players were pleased with the news about Drogba moving from Chinese football to Galatasaray.
“We are happy for him,” he said. “He's joining a club playing in the Champions League, it's going to be good for him to play at a high level again.”
Togo and Tunisia have three points each in Group D, but Togo has the tiebreaker advantage because of a better goal difference, meaning it can advance with a draw. Algeria has zero points after losing both games and has been eliminated.
Adebayor, one of the tournament stars along with Drogba, helped Togo keep its hopes alive by scoring his first goal of the tournament against Algeria on Saturday. The team eventually won 2-0 to recover from the opening loss to the Elephants. Adebayor dismissed critics who have complained of his lackluster play so far, saying he is just worried about scoring goals, not showing off his skills.
Togo didn't qualify for last year's African Cup and was forced to withdraw from the 2010 tournament in Angola after two team officials and a driver were killed when gunmen ambushed their bus. The team also faced problems before this year's tournament, with Adebayor threatening not to play because of security concerns and disagreements with Togo's federation over bonus payments for players.
“Adebayor is a good player, with big quality, but we also have good defenders,” Tunisia defender Aymen Abdennou said. “I know Adebayor is a good player but the team is 11 players.”
Tunisia coach Sami Trabelsi said he expected young midfielder Youssef Msakni to recover from a bronchial infection in time to face Togo at Mbombela Stadium. Msakni, who scored the late winner in the opener against Algeria, did not practice with the rest of Tunisia on Monday but was back in action on Tuesday.