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FIFA persuades Togo not to boycott match

The team made headlines when coach Pfister stormed out in favour of the player's bonus protest and repeated absences from training.

india Updated: Jun 19, 2006 04:56 IST

A long-running pay dispute that plunged Togo's soccer team into chaos finally was settled on Sunday after FIFA persuaded the players to abandon a boycott plan and take the field for a crucial match against Switzerland.

"It's settled. It's finished," midfielder Thomas Dossevi said. "We are now going to concentrate on soccer."

He said that FIFA had underwritten guarantees by the Togolese federation that the players would receive their bonuses. Soccer's governing body was forced to act after receiving reports that the players did not want to board a plane from their training base in southern Germany to the match venue in the central city of Dortmund, FIFA spokesman Andreas Herren said.

"There were rumors that they did not want to travel and play," Herren said. "This prompted us to open all contact channels to them to appeal to them to think of their responsibility to football and themselves and their country."

The team, the lowest ranked at the tournament, made headlines last week when coach Otto Pfister stormed out in protest at the player's bonus protest and repeated absences from training.

The 68-year-old German returned only hours before the opening match against South Korea after desperate pleas from his squad. The Sparrow Hawks are fighting for survival in Group G, having lost 2-1 to South Korea in their opener.

Togolese federation spokesman Meslan Attolou said the rumbling dispute exploded anew Sunday when the players demanded the equivalent of euro76,000 (US$96,000) in cash.

The government and soccer federation had offered the equivalent of euro46,000 (US$58,000). Players refused to give details of the compromise. "We are satisfied," said Dossevi.

The players, most of whom play on small European clubs, had been seeking euro158,000  each - or euro3.6 million - to play in the tournament, plus euro30,800 (US$39,000) each per win and euro15,800 (US$20,000) per draw.

While each team is guaranteed 7 million Swiss francs (US$5.7 million, euro4.5 million) from FIFA just for playing in the World Cup, the average income in the coffee-and-yam-growing West African nation is less than euro316 per year.

The squad traveled to Dortmund only after FIFA intervened. Soccer officials warned that if the team boycotted Sunday's training and Monday's match it would be disqualified from the World Cup and face further sanctions from the disciplinary committee.

No team has ever boycotted a World Cup match since the tournament began in 1930.

Herren said 'various levels' of FIFA delegates were involved in the negotiations, advising the players, "if you don't travel, it could be the worst thing you could do."

The Togolese squad arrived at their hotel on Sunday afternoon. A training session originally scheduled for 3:30 p.m. was delayed until 8 p.m. Under FIFA rules, all teams must arrive at the stadium one day ahead of a match.

The boycott threats came as a surprise. At a news conference on Saturday, players said that although the bonus row had not been settled, they wanted to concentrate on soccer.

Players and Pfister alike insisted that morale was high and that the team was determined to cause an upset against the more favored Swiss and defend the honor of the West African nation.

After last week's opening match, a top federation official labeled Pfister as an alcoholic and a traitor.

Pfister is now considering legal action, saying he doesn't touch alcohol and needs to defend his reputation.