World soccer’s ruling body FIFA has moved Friday’s Group I tie between Libya and Togo to Tripoli after clashes between protesters and a militia killed at least 31 people on Saturday in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi where the game was initially scheduled to be held.
But the move was not enough to convince some Togo players to make the trip. Togo player Alaixys Romao has decided not to go to Libya while striker Serge Gakpe said the trip to the North African country is not worth risking his life for.
FIFA said the decision to move the match to Tripoli had been taken in consultation with the Libyan Football Federation after security incidents in Benghazi.
Last Friday, in Tripoli, Libya played its first World Cup qualifying match on its own soil after two years, after a ban due to security concerns had been lifted. Libya and Democratic Republic of Congo played out a nil-nil draw without incident at Tripoli’s stadium.
Libya currently top their Group I after four matches played with six points. Cameroon also has six points, with Democratic Republic of Congo on five and Togo on four.
“We received an email from the international federation, and you know that the international federation is following what is happening in Libya,” said Abdulrazaq Jrana, vice president of the Libyan Football Federation.
“They suggested we move the match or give big guarantees if we held the game in Benghazi, and to be honest we couldn’t find someone to give us these guarantees. Due to the circumstances in our city of Benghazi we decided, after considering the feelings of the citizens of Benghazi, to move the match to Tripoli,” he said.
Jrana said that the federation had no problem with Benghazi, and this procedure was only temporary until the security problems are over.
Mohamed Abuabdulla, Tripoli’s security department spokesman, said the department was securing the match in cooperation with the army: “The match of Libya against Togo was moved from Benghazi to Tripoli next Friday because of the security conditions of Benghazi city. The security conditions will be the same as the last game, Tripoli’s security department will implement a solid plan to secure this match,” he said.
The changes have apparently not convinced some members of the Togo team. Togo were the targets of an attack during the 2010 African Nations Cup in Angola when separatist gunmen ambushed their bus in the Cabinda province, killing three members of the squad and forcing them to withdraw from the tournament.
“I’m about to take off from Lome to come back to France,” Olympique Marseille midfielder Romao wrote on Twitter.
The midfielder who has recorded has 50 international caps said with his 2010 African Nations Cup traumatising experience in Angola he wouldn’t want his family to live with that stress again as he does not see the difference between Tripoli and Benghazi that he will only change his decision not to play if the FIFA officials who have made the decision come with the Togolese team who are bearing the same mind-set with the player.