African football at the Rio Olympics

QINHUANGDAO, CHINA - AUGUST 16: Nigerian players celebrate the win over Ivory Coast after the Men's Quarter Final match between Nigeria and Ivory Coast at Qinhuangdao Olympic Sports Center Stadium on Day 8 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 16, 2008 in Qinhuangdao, China. (Photo by Noriko Hayakusa/Getty Images)

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As the 2016 Rio Olympics looms, we take a look at the three African sides participating in the men’s football.

After the recent African Youth Under-23 tournament, the three best sides qualified for the illustrious competition – whereby the best youngsters of each country participate alongside three ‘overage’ players of the national team coaches’ choice.

Nigeria qualified by beating Algeria in the final of the U23 tournament, while South Africa shocked hosts Senegal, who were widely tipped as favourites by beating them on penalties.

In previous years, Nigeria won the tournament in 1996 in Atlanta, finished as runners-up in the 2008 Beijing edition, losing to Argentina – and in 2000, Cameroon won it in Sydney.

South Africa (Group A)

Grouped alongside hosts Brazil, Iraq and Denmark – this one of the brightest Amaglug-glug sides since their famous Sydney 2000 side that beat Brazil in the group stages. The side, then, included the likes of Benni McCarthy, Delron Buckley, Quinton Fortune, Aaron Mokoena and Matthew Booth.

There’s a real sense of optimism going into this tournament with another golden generation on the horizon. Captain and Mamelodi Sundowns winger Keagan Dolly will be the creative spark – alongside Orlando Pirates utility man Aboubakr Mobara and Brondby midfielder Lebogang Phiri.

Lille forward Lebo Mothiba is likely to partner Gremio playmaker Tyroane Sandows, as they face the daunting prospect of opening the tournament against the Brazilians on 3 August.

Nigeria (Group B)

Nigeria have always prided themselves on their conveyor belt of natural young talent, as they continue to do well on the world youth stage.

They lost in the finals of the previous edition to Argentina, but after winning the U23 Youth Nations Cup, the Super Eaglets will want to go one step further, as they find themselves grouped with Colombia, Japan and recent Euro U23 champions Sweden.

Midfielder Nathan Oduwa, Azubuike Okechukwu and striker Taiwo Awoniyi will be key to their potential success.

Awoniyi and Okechukwu had spectacular tournaments during their time in Senegal last year, while Oduwa impressed by breaking into the first team at Tottenham Hotspur last season.

Azubuike Okechukwu was voted as Most Valuable Player of the Tournament, with dominant performances in midfield, as they romped to victory, while striker Liverpool forward Awoniyi has an impressive scoring ratio of 13 goals in 20 caps for Nigeria’s youth national sides.

Chelsea midfielder Jon Obi Mikel will be one of the overage players in the squad and he has been named captain.

Algeria (Group D)

Coached by Swiss manager Pierre-Andre Schurmann, Algeria has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance in football over the past few years.

A sudden burst of talent exploded into their senior team and their youth teams have followed suit, in terms of development through international tacticians.

Captain Oussama Darfalou will be tasked with finding the net for the Fennec Foxes after scoring four times in his 11 caps, while Le Havre playmaker Zinedine Ferhat and Sporting Gijon’s towering midfielder Rachid Ait-Atmane will provide the creative spark.

Ferhat enjoyed an impressive career with Algerian side USM Alger – scoring eight goals in 137 games before moving to the ambitious Ligue 2 side.

Ait-Atmane provided two assists in 18 games as he helped his side avoid relgation in his debut season within the Spanish top-flight.

Ball-playing centre-back Ramy Bensebaini will be a colossus. The 21-year-old recently completed a two million euro move to Ligue 1 side Rennes from Paradou AC, after impressing on loan at Montpellier last season where he scored two goals in 21 appearances.

Algeria will battle it out for a place in the next round with Euro runners up Portugal, Honduras and reigning champions Argentina.

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