Egypt and Senegal get second chance to reach Olympics
Egypt and Senegal get a second chance to secure a place at the 2012 London Olympic Games football tournament when they meet on Saturday to decide who finishes third in the CAF under-23 championship.
Morocco hosts the play-off at the 45,000-capacity Marrakech Stadium as a curtain-raiser to the tournament final between the host nation and fairytale qualifiers Gabon.
The Moroccans and Gabonese have already booked Olympic Games slots with mid-week victories over Egypt and Senegal respectively in sharply contrasting semi-finals.
Whoever loses the CAF third-place game gets a third shot next April at competing in the quadrennial multi-sport showcase by facing the country finishing fourth in the Asian qualifiers.
Egypt have represented Africa a record 10 times at the Olympic Games football tournament, but it is 19 years since they last appeared at a competition that permits three over-age players for the finals.
The 'Baby Pharaohs' were unlucky 3-2 losers to Morocco in a thriller as they created a spate of chances after conceding two early goals only to be deprived by weak finishing, the woodwork and goal-line clearances.
"The way we fought back gives me hope against Senegal. These boys desperately want to be in London next year and the play-off will resemble a final," said Egypt coach and former national team star Hani Ramzy.
Senegal coach Abdoulaye Sarr felt his team had been "mugged" after they conceded the only goal of a drab duel with Gabon in the final minute of extra time.
"The result was bizarre and very much against the run of play. Luckily for my boys they have two more chances to qualify for the Olympics," said the former senior national team coach.
Livewire Egypt striker Mohamed Salah will hope to score after coming close many times in four games while midfielder Kara Mbodj owes Senegal a goal having squandered their best chance of the semi-final.
Rank outsiders when the inaugural eight-nation championship kicked-off 13 days ago, Gabon recovered from a narrow defeat by Egypt to hold South Africa and defeat Ivory Coast and Senegal.
"We play with belief, determination and discipline and respect but never fear rivals," stressed midfielder and captain Cedric Boussoughou, one of 17 local-based footballers in the 'Baby Panthers' squad.
Australia 2010 World Cup coach Pim Verbeek guides Morocco, who were among the pre-tournament favourites despite a host of European clubs not releasing players the Dutchman wanted.
After solitary-goal wins over Nigeria and Algeria, a tired team fell to Senegal before bouncing back against Egypt, with midfielder Abdelaziz Barrada from Spanish outfit Getafe scoring twice in an outstanding display.
Morocco will compete at the Olympics for the seventh time in London while Gabon will be making a maiden appearance in the same year the small central African country co-hosts the Africa Cup of Nations with Equatorial Guinea.
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