There are 16 spots in men’s football at next year’s Rio Olympic Games, and with hosts Brazil being eligible for automatic qualification, 15 spots remained for different regions of the world. Of these, six other nations have already qualified. They are Germany, Argentina, Denmark, Portugal, Sweden and Fiji. But three places, allocated to CAF, the Confederation of African Nations are yet to be decided. After keenly fought matches, organized under the 2015 Africa U-23 Cup of Nations qualification tournaments, eight teams have emerged to play in the African U-23 Championship at the Senegalese capital Dakar during November 28-December 12 2015. Top three teams from this tournament will represent Africa at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. There is also an opportunity for the fourth placed team, which will face an Asian side in a playoff match later.
A total of 26 teams participated in three rounds of two-legged matches of the 2015 Africa U-23 Cup of Nations qualifying rounds. These games were played on home-and-away basis. As per the rules, if the sides were level on aggregate after the second leg, FIFA’s away-goal rule would decide the winners. If the teams still remained level, the ties were to be decided directly by penalty shoot-outs and no extra-time featured. At the end of the second round on May 31, 2015, the biggest casualty was Ghana, who had been the tallest African football team and the only medal winner in the Olympics. The 1992 Barcelona bronze medal winners lost 4-5 on penalties against Congo in Brazzaville on May 31. Next day Cameroon also suffered a shocking loss, when they drew 1-1 with Sierra Leone at home. This was not enough for Cameroon as they yielded an away-goal advantage to their opponents.
Algeria were the first team to qualify for Senegal’s African U-23 Championship, when they defeated Sierra Leone 2-0 on aggregates. They had won the first leg 2-0 and played a drawn second leg. Both matches were played in the Algerian city of Blida because Sierra Leone had a playing ban on account of the outbreak of Ebola virus last year. There was another casualty in the tournament, when Ivory Coast lost to Zambia on penalties on August 1, 2015. On August 1, two spots still remained undecided after Algeria, Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia and Zambia confirmed their places for the African U-23 Championship in Senegal. On the last day of Africa U-23 Cup of Nations qualifying rounds, Congo had to face Nigeria in Pointe Noire and Gabon had a match with Mali at Bamako.
In their match with Gabon on August 2, Mali benefitted from an own goal by Gabon’s Karl Mboudou in the 67th minute. Mali’s Adama Traore scored another goal in the 87th minute to seal a 3-0 victory on aggregates for his side. Gabon were the past champion in the inaugural edition of the African U-23 Championship in Morocco four years ago but won’t be able to defend their trophy at Senegal. In Pointe Noire, the Nigerians played a goalless draw against Congo but booked the ticket to Senegal with 2-1 victory on aggregates.
After the last matches on August 1 &2, seven African winners emerged. Together with Senegal these eight teams will contest among themselves in the final tournament to be played at Dakar during November 28- December 12 and the top three will go to Rio for representing Africa in the 2016 Olympic Games. The fourth placed team at Dakar will face an Asian team a playoff and therefore still holds a chance for Rio qualification.
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