3 Olympics places up for grabs in Senegal
JOHANNESBURG: Senegal host an eight-nation Olympics football qualifying tournament during the next 15 days with the top three finishers securing places at the 2016 Rio Games. South Africa, Tunisia and Zambia are in Group A with the Senegalese and Group B comprises Algeria, Egypt, Mali and 1996 gold medalists Nigeria. Owen Da Gama of South Africa could have been speaking for all eight coaches when he spoke about the opening game against Senegal at Stade Leopold Sedar Senghor in Dakar. “This match will define our destiny. Our aim is to start well because an opening-round loss will place us under pressure in the remaining two group games,” he said.
Group matches are scheduled for the 60,000-seat national stadium in Dakar and the 5,000-capacity Stade Caroline Faye in M’Bour, 70 kilometers south of the capital city. Dakar stages both semi-finals, the third place play-off to decide the last qualifier for Rio, and the final of a competition which doubles as the CAF U-23 Africa Cup of Nations. AFP Sport looks, in alphabetical order, at the eight contenders, all of whom have qualified at least once for the Olympics.
ALGERIA: It is 35 years since the North Africans made their lone Olympics appearance and the odds are against them reaching Rio with Egypt and Nigeria the likeliest top two Group B finishers. Winger Zineddine Ferhat from CAF Champions League runners-up USM Alger is a 2015 Africabased Footballer of the Year finalist and Abdelhakim Amokrane scored the goals that got Algeria to Senegal.
EGYPT: Have competed at 11 Olympics football tournaments and there is no reason why they cannot add to that African record total under 2012 CAF Champions League-winning coach Hossam El Badry. Impressive qualifiers at the expense of Uganda, the star of the squad is consistent-scoring midfielder Mahmoud Abdel Moneim, better known as ‘Kahraba’, from famed Cairo club Zamalek.
MALI: Apart from Senegal, they should be the team most at home in the hot, humid, windy tropical conditions likely in Atlantic venues Dakar and M’Bour. France-based Adama Niane topped the elimination competition scoring charts with ‘Kahraba’ and fellow striker Adama Traore was voted best player of the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.
NIGERIA: Boast the best record of African qualifiers for the Olympics, winning the gold medal at Atlanta in 1996 and the silver medal in Beijing seven years ago. The class of 2015 has outstanding strikers in Liverpool signing Taiwo Awoniyi and local Victor Osimhen, scorer of a record 10 goals at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile.
SENEGAL: Home support and familiarity with the probable sauna-like conditions should assist a side that prepared by the winning another under-23 competition, the African Games, in Congo Brazzaville. The team is full of tall, strong, skilful and innovative footballers, with striker Ibrahima Sory Keita keen to build on outstanding African Games form.
SOUTH AFRICA: Da Gama welcomed a heat wave during training in Johannesburg as it gave his squad a taste of the conditions they are set to encounter in Senegal. Centre-back Rivaldo Coetzee is a senior national team regular and much is expected from captain and midfielder Keagan Dolly, an earlyseason star in the 2015-2016 South African Premiership.
TUNISIA: Coach and 1996 Olympian Maher Kanzari has tempted his squad by telling them “the Games are even better than the World Cup”. He has chosen eight players from Esperance and four each from other top-flight clubs Club Africain and CA Bizertin to bolster cohesiveness. —AFP
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