Africa going for gold again

Africa will provide a formidable line-up at the forthcoming 2008 Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 after Nigeria became the third and final side to book a place in the 16-team field.

Nigeria are former gold medalists, an achievement matched by Cameroon, who also return to the games. Also bound for Beijing are newly-emerged African superpower Côte d'Ivoire, providing further proof of the Elephants' massive potential.

The Cameroonians and Ivorians actually made sure of their qualification as far back as November of last year, ensuring with victories in their penultimate games to ensure that they could not be overtaken by the other contenders in their respective groups.

Cameroon triumphed in a tough section in which Morocco were their major rivals, finishing their campaign with a 1-0 win at home over Botswana, surprise qualifiers from the preliminary knockout rounds. Serge Ngal, the Portugal-based striker knocking on the door of selection to the national side, got the only goal for Cameroon's U-23 side in their win to ensure they finished four points clear at the top of Group C.

Cameroon were the last African side to make the podium at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament, winning gold in Sydney in 2000, but it is widely considered that they are the weakest of the three African sides heading for Beijing.

Siasia stakes his claim
Côte d'Ivoire, who finished five points clear at the top of Group B, are seen by many as the team to watch. The Elephants' U-23 side boasts several players who are also part of the star-studded senior Ivorian squad, which reached the last four at the recent CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana. They lost their opening Group B game against Zambia but then won the next five to stress their potential for Beijing.

Captain Gervais Yao Kouassi, better known as Gervinho and a regular in France's Ligue 1 for Le Mans, has been an impressive performer, and Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou was drafted in for the key qualifier against Zambia last year, when he scored to help ensure qualification Sekou Cisse, meanwhile, who plays his club football in the Netherlands, scored both goals in the Ivorians' last match, a 2-1 away win over Senegal in Dakar on 26 March, which coach Gerard Gili used to look at some of his fringe players.

Yet it is Nigeria who are expected be the most charismatic of the African representatives, this after Samson Siasia's side made sure of their place with a 3-0 win over South Africa on Wednesday. The Group A match in Abuja marked the return Olympique Marseille defender Taye Taiwo and a debut for Everton striker Victor Anichebe, who came off the bench to score Nigeria's third goal.

Taiwo had earlier broken the deadlock in the first half before South African defender Thapelo Tshilo put through his own goal to double the Super Eagles' lead in Abuja. It was a major triumph for Siasia, who is now seen as the favourite to succeed Berti Vogts as coach of the senior side. "It is a side that has proven its potential," said the former Nantes striker, "but we now have to start the hard work for Beijing."

CAF Olympic Qualifier Results

Group A
Nigeria 3-2 Ghana
Ethiopia 2-2 South Africa
South Africa 1-1 Nigeria
South Africa 1-3 Ghana
Ghana 3-1 South Africa
Ghana 0-0 Nigeria
Nigeria 3-0 South Africa

Group B
Zambia 2-0 Côte d'Ivoire
Senegal 0-0 Mali
Mali 1-2 Zambia
Côte d'Ivoire 2-0 Senegal
Côte d'Ivoire 3-1 Mali
Zambia 1-1 Senegal
Mali 1-2 Côte d'Ivoire
Senegal 2-1 Zambia
Côte d'Ivoire 4-1 Zambia
Mali 1-0 Senegal
Senegal 1-2 Côte d'Ivoire
Zambia 4-1 Mali

Group C
Cameroon 6-1 Guinea
Morocco 1-0 Botswana
Botswana 0-0 Cameroon
Guinea 1-2 Morocco
Cameroon 2-1 Morocco
Guinea 2-0 Botswana
Botswana 2-1 Guinea
Morocco 2-2 Cameroon
Botswana 2-0 Morocco
Guinea 1-3 Cameroon
Cameroon 1-0 Botswana
Morocco 1-0 Guinea