LOME, Togo – The mystery Togo team that played Bahrain in an international soccer exhibition was made up of "unidentified players and their shadowy handlers" and belonged to a "mafia group" the country's sports minister told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Christophe Tchao said the team, which lost 3-0 in an apparently innocuous game at Bahrain's National Stadium in Riffa last week, did not have any authorization from Togo's Ministry of Sport — which is required for teams representing the country.
"This rule was not complied with by the group of unidentified players and their shadowy handlers," Tchao told the AP. "It is obvious that the players belonged to a mafia group who aided and abetted them to leave Togo without authorization."
More details have been uncovered by the AP on the fake Togo party, which appears to have also tricked the Bahrain Football Association into believing that they were an official national team.
A former Togo soccer official has said his signature was forged in a letter to the Bahraini federation that set up the match.
The AP has received documents showing former Togo interim soccer federation secretary general Kodzo Samlan's name as the signatory in a letter dated Aug. 17 and addressed to BFA general secretary Ahmed Jassim Mohammad. The letter has an official-looking Togo Football Federation stamp.
The documents were provided by the BFA, which said they proved the Sept. 7 game was legitimate.
However, Samlan told the AP Wednesday he did not write the letter, and claimed he no longer worked for Togo's soccer body.
"I quit the interim football federation as its secretary general in May this year so I could not have written that letter," Samlan said in a phone interview from his home town of Kpalime.
Another of the documents supposedly sent by Togo's soccer body listed a 20-member Togo team, including each player's passport number and date of birth.
However, a completely different 18-man team list was provided by a Togo team official a few minutes prior to the start of the match at the National Stadium, made up of unknown players.
Mystery also surrounds the role of another former Togo federation employee, Tchanile Bana, who is identified as one of five officials accompanying the fake team to Bahrain.
Bana, a former member of the national team's technical staff, was banned from soccer for two years by Togo's government last month after taking a team to an international tournament in Egypt without permission.
Bana could not be reached for comment.
The incident threatens to further embarrass a country that had its beleaguered soccer federation dissolved by FIFA last December and is due to elect a new body next month.
Sports minister Tchao said he had ordered the interim federation to provide his ministry with full details of "the scandalous participation of a group of Togolese players in a friendly match with Bahrain."
Federation chairman Seiyi Memene said his body's disciplinary committee will investigate fully with the help of FIFA, but soccer's ruling body says it has not received a request from Togo for help.
FIFA has also said it will not comment on the incidents surrounding the match as it was not played under its control, despite a brief match report appearing on the FIFA.com website.
The BFA said it intends to formally complain to Togo's federation over the quality of the team fielded by the visitors in the Sept. 7 game.
Bahrain coach Josef Hickersberger called the match "boring" and "a wasted opportunity," despite the 3-0 win for his team, and also said the Togo players were not fit enough to play 90 minutes.
Togo's real national team played in Botswana three days before the Bahrain match, losing 2-1 in an African Cup of Nations qualifier.