- Kodjo Laba was just a teen when Togo appeared at the 2006 World Cup
- Al Ain forward is inspired by compatriot Mohamed Kader Coubadja
- Player celebrates his goals by performing traditional Togolese dance
By any standard 13 June 2006 was a historic day for Togolese football. That was when Emmanuel Adebayor and Co played the country’s first FIFA World Cup™ game.
And although the Sparrowhawks failed to register a point at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ after defeats to Korea Republic, Switzerland and France, the events of that summer are still fresh in the memory of present-day Togo striker Kodjo Laba.
The 28-year-old, who now plays for UAE club Al Ain, was a young teenager when Mohamed Kader Coubadja scored Togo’s only goal at that tournament in Germany. Now he hopes to follow in his footsteps and lead Togo to another World Cup appearance in two years’ time.
“The World Cup is not something every team gets to experience, so I thank God for giving my country a chance,” Laba told FIFA.com. “I was young at the time, but I went to all our home qualifying games. I used to walk to the stadium after school despite it being a long way away, and then I watched all our away games on TV.
“Although I was young, I still vividly remember our games at Germany 2006, particularly the one against South Korea in which Coubadja scored a splendid goal.
“I jumped for joy. It was an unforgettable match. And even in the game against France, our players made a huge effort despite the loss. We proved that we were a big team.”
Dreams can come true
Five years after Togo’s Germany adventure, Laba started his professional football career with OC Agaza. He later joined another Togolese outfit Anges FC before having spells overseas in Gabon and Morocco. His last move, in 2019, took him to UAE giants Al Ain.
After impressing at club level, Laba realised his dream of joining the national team in 2016, going on to become a pillar of the side. He participated with the team at the 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations before helping them reach the group stage of the CAF qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ after he scored his country’s first goal in their opening first-round fixture.
“I was lucky to score that away goal against Comoros. I think it was a decisive strike that allowed us to secure an important first-leg draw.
“In Lome we won 2-0, and I believe that my away goal was the one that gave us the edge. Now we’ve qualified for the group stage, for which we’ll prepare in the best possible way.”
Laba and the rest of Claude Le Roy’s side will face Senegal, Congo, and Namibia in Group H of the World Cup qualifiers, a section the free-scoring front man described as “complicated”.
“Our approach to the group stage is to focus on one game at a time. We’re aware of what’s in store for us. I believe the team that poses the biggest threat to us are Senegal, as they have players like Sadio Mane and Kalidou Koulibaly, among many others.
“These days, every team is of a good standard and competes strongly. And while Senegal are a big team, we mustn’t ignore Congo and Namibia. We have to take every game seriously and do the impossible to qualify for the World Cup.”
Emerging as one of the most prominent Togolese attackers in recent years, with 12 goals in 24 internationals, Laba is seeking to follow the examples of his role model Coubadja and the star of Togolese football Adebayor by playing and scoring at the global showpiece.
“I was inspired by many players when I was young, but if I were to choose one, it’d be Adebayor. He’s a source of inspiration for all Togolese because he was lucky to play with major clubs in Europe.
“There’s also Coubadja, who scored many goals with the team, particularly the wonderful strike at the World Cup. He’s a big name in Togolese football. And because he was an attacker like me, I always try to emulate him. I’m lucky to have met him a few times as he offered me a lot of advice.”
Coubadja’s influence on Laba is such that the latter imitates the dance that Coubadja performed on the Frankfurt pitch after scoring against Korea Republic. The attacker frequently performed this traditional dance during his time with Morocco’s RS Berkane as well as with his current club and the national team.
“It’s called the Agbadja dance and it’s well known where I’m from. It allows me to celebrate in the style of Coubadja, like after I scored in the  CAF Confederation Cup final against Egypt’s Zamalek.”
But is he dreaming of performing this dance at the upcoming World Cup? “First, I’m dreaming of qualifying for the World Cup for the second time in the history of our country. As an attacker, I’ll do everything I can to make my mark on this tournament. If I get the chance to play at the World Cup and to score, I’ll dance the way Coubadja did.”