Algeria, SA battle for Rio berth

Algeria and South Africa will battle for a place in the final of the 2015 CAF U-23 Africa Cup of Nations and qualification for the 2016 Olympic Games when they meet in the second semifinal at the Stade Leopold Sedar Senghor in Dakar on Wednesday.

 

South Africa booked their place in final four thanks to a 1-0 win over Tunisia last Friday. This result, added to a 3-2 victory against regional rivals Zambia, saw Owen Da Gama’s side join hosts Senegal (who they lost to in the opening match of the tournament) in progressing from Group A.

 

As for Algeria, they topped Group B thanks to a win over Mali, which was sandwiched by draws with North African rivals Egypt and the ‘Dream Team’ of Nigeria.

 

With the top three teams at the tournament qualifying for next year’s Games, a win in the semifinal will secure a berth at Rio de Janeiro. A loss will see the team battle for the final qualification berth in the third-place playoff.

 

SA coach Da Gama feels his side is peaking at the right time: “But it has been a fantastic run so far and it is important that we get better and better as the competition progresses, and peak at the right time. Hopefully we can get it right and win the next one.”

 

He added, “We have a slight advantage of at least one extra day of rest and that will certainly help us. We played three matches in one week and the body is bound to take a beating, so the rest day is much welcome.

 

“But what is also pleasing is that we have three days of training and that will certainly come in handy because the last three matches we only had one training session in between, so this time we will have more time to prepare and more time for the players to recover.”

 

Algerian midfielder Mohamed Benkhemassa has warned South Africa that his side is determined to come out on top and secure a place in the final.

 

“To qualify as group winners is a great satisfaction for us, especially as we avoided the host country,” the USM Alger player told Le Buteur.

 

“It was our objective, and we reached it. Thankfully, we are playing South Africa.

 

“We are going to play the match of our lives against them, and we are going to give it our all to reach the final and qualify for the Olympic Games.

 

“We are 90 minutes away from Rio. We are going to fight to get past South Africa.”

 

The winners will face either Senegal or Nigeria in the final on Saturday night.

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