And that start this weekend with the first leg matches of the ultimate round, highlighted by some interesting fixtures including regional derbies.
Nigeria, the first African side to win gold at the Olympic Games, 1996 in Atlanta (USA), face a relatively tough test against Congo, which ousted Ghana, the African pacesetters in the history of the quadrennial multisport event, following their bronze feat in 1992 in Barcelona (Spain).
Nigeria coach, Samson Siasia is no stranger at this level having guided Africa’s most populous country to silver at their last appearance seven years ago in Beijing, China and look set to guide the Eagles to realize that dream yet again after missing out on the last championship four years ago in London, England.
England-based midfielder Musa Yahaya and striker Taiwo Awoniyi, part of the Nigeria squad at the recent FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand have been roped into the Olympic squad by Siasia, as he eyes a convincing victory in the encounter billed for Port Harcourt.
Gabon, winners of the maiden edition of the African U-23 Championship in Morocco four years ago will be up against Mali in Libreville whilst Egypt are favoured in the home tie against Uganda in the Alexandria.
After masterminding one of the biggest surprises at the previous round, the Lone Stars of Sierra Leone will travel north to face Algeria, whose only participation at the final tournament of the quadrennial tournament was 35-years ago in Moscow, Russia.
Oussama Derfelou’s charges appear ready for the task despite suffering a 2-1 loss to their Senegalese counterparts in a test match last Saturday in Blida. However, the take consolation from the lone goal victory in the initial meeting between both sides four days earlier at the same venue.
Southern African neighbours, Zimbabwe and South Africa will rekindle the between the two sides in Harare with Warriors coach Kalisto Pasuwa hoping that goalkeeper Tatende Mukuruva and defender Blessing Moyo will pass late fitness tests to be ready for the crucial clash.
On the otherhand, South Africa coach Owen da Gama has declared that his charges are ready for the trip to the northern neighbours after a two-week training camp coupled with the arrival of former Bafana Bafana striker Shaun Bartlett as a member his backroom staff.
“Overall, I think we have made the best out of the two weeks the squad has been in camp. We have had three practice matches against Free State Stars, Highlands Park and Amatuks and all those games gave us an idea of which areas we need to work on.
“The mood in the camp is sky high. It is buzzing and that is what you need when headed for tough battles,” da Gama was quoted by the South African Football Association website.
Another regional derby is the Morocco versus Tunisia clash in Rabat with Zambia traveling to Abidjan to face their Ivorian counterparts.
The winners at this stage will qualify for the final tournament of the African U-23 Championship scheduled for 28 November to 12 December in Senegal, where the top three teams will represent Africa at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and the fourth placed team facing an Asian side in a playoff.
Saturday, 18 July 2015
Gabon vs Mali 15H30 Libreville
Cote d’Ivoire vs Zambia 15H00 Abidjan
Egypt vs Uganda 19H15 Alexandria
Sunday, 19 July 2015
Nigeria vs Congo 16H00 Port Harcourt
Algeria vs Sierra Leone 20H45 Blida
Zimbabwe vs South Africa 15H00 Harare
Morocco vs Tunisia 18H00 Rabat