Egypt’s U-23 side will have a valuable chance to give Egyptian football fans something to cheer about this year when they face hosts Morocco in Wednesday’s crucial African Championship semi-final game.
A win for the young Pharaohs will lift them to the tournament’s final and, more importantly, hand them a place at next year’s Olympic Games in London - their first Olympic performance in 20 years.
If Egypt lose, they will still have two more chances to qualify for the quadrennial showpiece.
A third-place finish will be enough to lift them through, while a fourth-place finish will pit them against an Asian representative in a decisive playoff.
“Thank God we made our fans in Egypt happy, and I promise them that we will do our best to make their dreams come true,” coach Hany Ramzy said after his side beat South Africa 2-0 on Saturday to finish on top of Group B and book a last-four berth.
“We’re on the right track now, but we have to forget what has just happened now and start preparing for what lies ahead, which is much more important.”
The last participation of Egypt’s football team in the Olympic Games was in the 1992 edition in Barcelona, where they lost two games against Qatar and Spain before beating Colombia.
They will be eager to break the duck when they take on a lively Morocco side, who finished second in Group A with six points from three games, to atone for some dismal displays by Egypt’s senior side.
Egypt stunningly failed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations, a tournament they won a record seven times, after finishing at the bottom of a qualifying group which included South Africa and minnows Niger and Sierra Leone.
The U-23 side’s lack of firepower was clear during the group stage games but they can take heart from a solid defensive display from towering partners Ahmed Hegazy and Moaz El-Hennawy.
Goalkeeper Ahmed El-Shennawy has also stolen the limelight after pulling off a series of impressive displays to keep South Africa at bay during Saturday’s encounter.
“I hope we keep winning and I believe we’re highly motivated to win our next match,” the Masry guardian was quoted as saying on the official website of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).