3 Olympics places up for grabs in Sene­gal

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

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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