Egypt hope to bridge 19-year Olympics gap
Egypt will secure a place at the Olympic Games football tournament for the first time since 1992 if they defeat hosts Morocco on Wednesday in the CAF under-23 championship semi-final.
The winners of the North African showdown in central city Marrakech will secure one of three slots reserved for Africa at the 2012 London Olympics, while the losers get a further two chances to reach the Games.
There is a third-place play-off against Gabon or Senegal at the same venue on Saturday with another invitation to England at stake and the losers will get a final shot at qualifying next April against an Asian country.
Egypt are the undisputed kings of Olympic football in Africa, having made a record 10 appearances at the quadrennial multi-sport showcase, followed by Ghana, Morocco and Nigeria with six each.
Ghana were shock casualties in the elimination process and 2008 Beijing Olympics silver medallists Nigeria finished only third behind Senegal and Morocco in Group A last weekend.
Egypt topped Group B with Gabon unexpected runners-up ahead of more fancied Ivory Coast and South Africa -- the only country not to win a pool match at the first African under-23 championship.
Morocco and Egypt have identical records of two victories and one loss going into the semi-final and the defensive strength of the sides is illustrated by the fact that they conceded only one goal each in three matches.
Less impressive is the number of goals scored, with Egypt averaging just one per game and Morocco not even reaching that modest level, managing just two in three outings.
Ahmed Magdy snatched the 'Baby Pharaohs' winner against Gabon and Mohamed El Niny and Mohsen Marwan were on target in a convincing triumph over the South Africans.
Spain-based Abdelaziz Barrada converted the first-half penalty that settled a tight tussle with Nigeria and substitute Adnane Tighadouini was on the field for just six minutes when he poached Egypt's winner against Algeria.
Barrada, a 22-year midfielder from La Liga club Getafe, looked a class act in the Nigeria game, while Egypt boast an outstanding goalkeeper in Ahmed El Shenawy and a dominant centre-back in Ahmed Hegazy.
Netherlands-born Morocco coach Pim Verbeek must hope his pre-tournament prediction of large crowds finally comes true after tiny attendances at most group matches, which have been staged in chilly winter conditions.
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