22 April 2015 01:47
The journey for the continental places for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games take-off this weekend with the first leg matches of the qualifiers for the African U-23 Championship Senegal 2015.
The African voyage to the 31st edition of the quadrennial multisport event commences with places at the eight-team tournament later in December in Senegal, where the top three finishers will qualify to represent the continent at the final tournament in Rio de Janeiro next year.
Six teams will be involved in the battle for three tickets to the join the 16 teams, who drew a bye at the initial round for the second round.
Tall amongst them is Ghana, the first African side to win a medal at the Olympics, bronze medal at the 1992 edition in Barcelona, Spain, who face a tricky test against Liberia, who are dreaming of an appearance of a major championship in recent times.
The Black Meteors have missed out on the last two edition of the Olympics, 2008 (Beijing) and 2012 (London), and much is expected from head coach Malik Jabir and his charges to rewrite the books to achieve qualification.
Jabir, a former national striker, is very much aware of the prestige that comes with playing at the quadrennial tournament, having had a feel of it himself at the 1972 edition in Munich, has a huge task on his shoulders after Ghana were edged out by Sudan 2-1 on aggregate at the same stage four years ago. The Meteors were undone by a shocking 1-0 loss in the first leg in Accra, a feat Jabir is keen on avoiding in the encounter billed for the northern Ghanaian city of Tamale, which is gradually becoming a bastion for the national teams.
Barely two weeks ago at the same venue, the Olympic team sealed their place for the 2015 African Games Brazzaville 2015 after a 2-0 win over Mozambique, and will be looking forward to replicate the dose against Liberians. A major source of worry for Jabir is the unavailability of his foreign legion, which has forced him to hand a surprise call-up to striker Richard Gandze of second-tier side, Ebusua Dwarfs for the match.
For Liberia coach, Thomas Kojo, the presence of three foreign-based players; Herron Scarla Berrian of Greek side, Platanias, Ivorian-based Sporo Somah and Cooper Gaypia of the University of Mt. Olive in the United States of America serves a major boost to their quest to upset their hosts.
Rwanda will face Somalia in a regional derby at the Amahoro Stadium in the capital, Kigali in what will be the first competitive match for new coach, Johnny McKinstry, who doubles as trainer of the senior team, Amavubis. The 29-year old Irish is happy with his charges preparations for the dicey encounter against the Somalis guided by Uganda-born Charles Mbabazi. In Italy-based Bon Fils Kabanda, Solomon Nirisarike of Belgian side, Royal Antwerp and USA-based Yves Rubasha, the Amavubis have a strengthened side to achieve the first leg cushioning at the expense of the Ocean Stars.
Somalia appear ready for the test after managing a lone-goal victory against a select side of foreigners in their domestic league last Monday with Mohamed Ali Ibrahim scoring the only five minutes from time.
In south-eastern town of Lobatse, hosts Botswana will be looking to make their home advantage count against Kenya at the Lobatse Sports Complex.
The second leg matches will take place in a fortnight.
Friday, 24 April 2015
Botswana vs Kenya
Saturday, 25 April 2015
Rwanda vs Somalia
Sunday, 26 April 2015
Ghana vs Liberia
*Guinea Bissau vs Sierra Leone
*Libya vs Mauritania
*Guinea Bissau and Libya have withdrawn