Senegal & SA to open U-23 AFCON in Dakar
Senegal and South Africa will open the 2015 U-23 Africa Cup of Nations when they meet for their Group A clash at the Stade Léopold Sédar Senghor in Dakar on Saturday, kick-off at 17h00 CAT.
The tournament will not only decide the U-23 champions of the African continent, but also serves as the qualifiers for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, with the top three finishers booking their trip to Brazil.
Senegal will begin the tournament as one of the favourites. Not only do they have home advantage, but they also have momentum, with their team winning gold at the All Africa Games in Brazzaville back in September.
Coach Serigne Saliou Dia has retained most of the players who did duty in that tournament in Congo, emphasising consistency in selection. He has also added a few players from Senegal’s U-20 team which reached the semifinals of the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand earlier this year.
“Stability was one of the criteria that we used in selection. These players performed well and claimed the gold medal in Congo,” said Dia, who added that this tournament will be a completely different challenge to the All Africa Games.
“[The U-23 AFCON] will be a different football tournament compared to the African Games. Because virtually all major African teams will be there and will present their best elements, including expatriates [overseas-based players] for certain.”
South Africa, meanwhile, are arguably one of the underdogs heading into the tournament, but remain determined that they will be able to secure a place at the Olympics – something they haven’t achieved since the famous ‘Class of 2000’ which appeared at the Sydney Games.
“History beckons for us, and the players know that as well. They will certainly go down in the history books as, probably, the second team to have qualified – if they do; or when they do,” said coach Owen Da Gama.
“We are very, very excited and looking forward to a fantastic tournament.”
The other Group A match on Saturday sees Zambia and Tunisia meet at the same venue at 20h