Senegal see off Oman to reach Olympics
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Senegal will participate in the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament for the first time in their history after beating Oman 2-0 in their play-off at the City of Coventry Stadium.

Ibrahima Balde’s opening goal after 90 seconds set Senegal on their way but the victory was not sealed until the closing minutes, when substitute Abdoulaye Sane converted to ensure his team’s place among the 16 teams entering the draw at Wembley on Tuesday.

Oman earned a place in the play-off by topping a round-robin tournament in the final stage of Asian qualifying, while Senegal’s second chance to reach the competition came after the West African side finished fourth at last year’s CAF U-23 Championship.

And it was the latter who took the first step towards London after securing a second-minute lead. Productive build-up play on the right-hand side earned the Senegalese a free-kick which was delivered to the back post, where Balde rose highest to head his team in front after just 90 seconds.

The Osasuna forward, operating on the left of an attacking Senegal line-up, almost turned provider minutes later but his low cross from edge of the penalty box was drilled wide by Sadio Mane. Oman were struggling to impose themselves in the final third, with their only sight of goal a shot dragged well wide by captain Hussain Al Hadhri on the quarter-hour mark.

With central midfielders Stephane Badji and Ibrahima Seck providing a solid platform for Senegal to push forward, Balde and Moussa Konate made ground down either flank to give strong striker Kalidou Yero several opportunities. Sadio Mane and Konate also tested Oman goalkeeper Omer Al Abri after half an hour, as the Africans searched for a second goal.

Oman offered a reminder of their threat on 40 minutes when a long-range effort from wide-man Mohamed Al Maashari had Senegal keeper Ousmane Mane worried but the 21-year-old’s looping strike eventually dropped onto the roof of the net. Balde almost doubled his and Senegal’s tally but his shot from six yards was beaten away by Al Abri in the last action of the opening period.

Sub seals London berth
Senegal began the second half in similar fashion, with Yero drawing another smart save from Al Abri after Oman twice failed to clear their area satisfactorily. As the action became slightly scrappy but more stretched, the Asian side began to pose more problems on the counter-attack.

Al Maashari was released by a ball over the top on the hour mark and made the most of the room he was afforded but Al Hadhri narrowly missed his cross from the left. A minute later, Senegal tried to repeat the trick of their first goal but defender Kara Mbodji’s header was not as accurate as Balde’s and it drifted harmlessly over.

Oman coach Paul Le Guen decided to refresh his forward line, bringing on Hamood Al Sadi and Badar Bamasila for Abdul Al Maqbali and Ali Al Nahar respectively. The changes helped put Oman on the front foot and they came close twice in quick succession.

First, Waleed Al Saadi got behind the opposition defence but his shot from almost level with the goalline was too straight and was deflected behind. From the resulting corner, defender Mohammed Al Balushi produced a carbon copy attempt but suffered the same outcome.

Senegal held strong defensively, however, and they assured their place at the July/August tournament with three minutes left to play. Substitute Sane was played in down the right wing and his precise, placed finish had enough power to beat Al Abri, despite the goalkeeper’s fingertip touch.

The result means Senegal join Gabon, Morocco and Egypt as CAF representatives in London, while Oman will have to try again for a maiden Games appearance at the Rio de Janeiro edition in 2016.