Hosts Egypt will be looking to reach the Olympic Games for the first time since 2012 when they begin their U23 African Nations Cup campaign on home soil on Friday.
A few months ago, the country also hosted the Nations Cup for senior teams, with Egypt suffering an embarrassing last-16 exit at the hands of South Africa after a below-par campaign.
The younger team would be eager to leave their mark and succeed where the more experienced and famed footballers failed. Despite home advantage, the task ahead will not be easy.
Egypt haven’t been able to book an Olympics spot since their convincing appearance seven years ago in London, when they bowed out in the quarter-finals following a 3-0 defeat by Japan at the Old Trafford.
Their attempt to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro ended in utter failure when they finished at the bottom of their group in the U23 Nations Cup in Senegal.
They were then managed by Hossam El-Badry, who is now in charge of Egypt’s senior team. Shawki Gharib, the current boss of the U23 side, knows best when it comes to managing young teams.
He is credited with steering Egypt to its best ever football achievement on the world stage when his U19 side finished third at the 2001 World Youth Championship.
“Our target is simply to qualify to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and then to win the title. We also want to have performances that will satisfy our supporters,” Gharib told CAFonline.com in an interview.
“Everyone is counting on the Olympic Pharaohs to deliver, especially after seeing the senior national team’s early exit from the 2019 AFCON last summer, also in Egypt
“Playing at home and with the support of our fans is a huge morale boost for us, and we are hoping to make good use of this advantage.”
When Egypt last played at the Olympic Games, their squad boasted several stars, including current Liverpool wizard Mohamed Salah, who was playing at Swiss side Basel at the time.
The current crop does not include similar big names, but it still has sufficient quality to compete for the title. The charge is led by winger Ramadan Sobhi, who is on loan at his boyhood club Ahly from English side Huddersfield Town.
Egypt will play in Group A along with Cameroon, Ghana and Mali.
Group B features reigning champions Nigeria, Zambia, Ivory Coast and South Africa.
“All the teams that have reached the finals are strong and deserve to be here. I’ve followed our opponents in the qualifications; Mali vs Morocco, Ghana vs Algeria and Cameroon vs Tunisia,” Gharib said.
“They are all strong teams and we respect them. We will take one match at a time and our target will always remain to win all our games.”
The Pharaohs kick off their campaign against Mali on Friday before meeting Ghana on 11 November and Cameroon three days later.