By Oyediji Oluwaseun Babatunde
Sports Writer, kick442.com-Nigeria
Africa is ready to find out which nations will represent the continent at next year’s Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020. The CAF U-23 Africa Cup of Nations will take place in Cairo, Egypt from 8 to 22 November as eight nations compete for three coveted tickets to the Olympic Games.
Gold medallists at Sydney 2000, Cameroon are desperate to return to the global tournament for the first time since Beijing 2008. Led by the legendary Rigobert Song, the team, comprised mostly of domestic-based players, are participating in their first U-23 AFCON, since the tournament’s inception in 2011. All signs point to a defensively-solid team in need of goals as their narrow away-goal aggregate win over Tunisia and recent goalless draw in a friendly with Nigeria suggest.
The narrative for the hosts will be one centred on redemption, as they look to put right a poor showing from the full national team as Africa Cup of Nations hosts earlier this year. Ramadan Sobhi, Salah Mohsen and Mostafa Mohamed will need to be on form if coach Shawky Gharib’s side are to progress from a tough Group A.
While Ghana boast great pedigree in Olympic football – they were the first African nation to win an Olympic medal in men’s football with a bronze at Barcelona 1992 – they have failed to qualify for the tournament since Athens 2004. The Black Meteors are led by coach Ibrahim Tanko, who believes Group A is the tougher of the two.
Like fellow Group A opponents Ghana, Mali’s last appearance at the Olympics was at Athens 2004, when Les Aigles made their debut. Seasoned tactician Fanyeri Diarra has a talented group that have had success at younger age levels, their bronze-medal finish at the 2015 U-20 World Cup being the standout achievement.
The young Elephants’ last Olympic appearance came at Beijing 2008 and head coach Haidara Soualiho stands every chance in getting the West African nation back to the big dance with the likes of captain Chester Diallo, Genoa’s Christian Kouame and Celtic’s Issouf Bayo Vakoun. They open Group B play against regional rivals and holders Nigeria in what will be a key game in determining their path.
The 2015 U-23 AFCON champions will be one of the favourites in Egypt and not only because of their successful history in both qualifying and the Olympics itself – Nigeria were famously the first Africans to win gold in the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, at Atlanta 1996. The Olympic Eagles boast a squad including the likes of U-17 World Cup adidas Golden Ball winner Kelechi Nwakali and highly-rated Azubuike Okechukwu among others.
David Notane’s side, led by captain Tercious Malepe, will be motivated to win back-to-back tickets to the Olympics, after the country’s participation at Rio 2016. Teboho Mokoena, Phakamani Mahlambi, Lyle Foster and Luther Singh will make up the core of the squad, and they will all have the opener against regional foes Zambia circled in their calendars as a crucial matchup.
Head coach Beston Chambeshi is an integral and symbolic member of the Chipolopolo contingent. He became the first coach to lead Zambia to the quarter-finals of a U-20 World Cup at Korea Republic 2017 and he was also a player the last time Zambia qualified for the Olympics at Seoul 1988. Fashion Sakala, Enoch Mwepu and Patson Daka are all key members of the side and all played crucial roles in their run to the U-20 World Cup quarter-finals in 2017.
Along with hosts Japan, five teams have qualified for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020 so far: France, Germany, New Zealand, Romania and Spain.
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