After qualifying from the group stage in style with maximum points, hosts Egypt are looking to secure their place in next year's Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 when they face South Africa in the Total U-23 Africa Cup of Nations, Egypt 2019 semifinal on Tuesday (19 November 2019) at the Cairo International Stadium.
It will be a repeat to a recent memory that the Egyptians need to forget. Last July, hosts Egypt crashed out of the 2019 Total Africa Cup of Nations Round of 16 at home, losing to South Africa 1-0 when Thembinkosi Lorch scored late to send his side to the quarterfinals, leaving the hosts shocked.
Three wins from as many games saw The Olympic Pharaohs topping Group A while the public enthusiasm was growing around them every day. A 1-0 opening victory over Mali was followed by an exciting comeback that saw them overtaking Ghana 3-2 in the last minutes. That was followed by a 2-1 victory over Cameroon in the final group game.
Meanwhile South Africa who are the only survivor from Africa's representatives in the latest Olympics in Rio 2016 reached the semifinals in a different style. Yet to concede any goal, they just scored once but that was enough to see them defeating Cote d'Ivoire 1-0.
Coupled with two goalless draws against neighbors Zambia and holders Nigeria, that was enough to see them finishing Group B in second place and continue their run with a second successive appearance in the Olympics at stake.
Egypt are eyeing their 12th appearance in the multi-sports quadrennial event; an African record. Their last appearance was when they reached the quarterfinals in London 2012. To do so, Coach Shawky Gharib, who himself played in the Olympics back in Los Angeles 1984 will hope his attacking force led by the likes of skipper Ramadan Sobhi and tournament top scorer Mostafa Mohamed are in their finest form on Tuesday night.
On the other hand, South Africa's coach David Notoane will rely on his side's defensive capabilities that saw them keeping three clean sheets in a row for goalkeeper Darren Johnson; a feat no other team achieved in the tournament. But he will be hoping his forwards can achieve more than the lone goal Teboho Mokoena achieved from a free kick in the group stage.
Both sides clashed in the maiden U-23 AFCON in Morocco 2011, when Egypt won 2-0 on their way to a third place finish. They met friendly twice last month, Egypt won 1-0 and they drew 1-1.
Previous U-23 AFCON meetings
3 December 2011 Marrakech Egypt 2-0 South Africa
Tuesday 19 November 2019
Egypt v South Africa Cairo International Stadium
(20h00 local time, 18:00 GMT)
What they said
Shawky Gharib (Coach, Egypt)
We did not qualify for the Olympics yet. We still have to work hard to achieve our targets. South Africa is a very strong team and we know them well. Egypt team is under pressure since Day 1 and it won't end until we secure the Olympics ticket. Failing on the senior AFCON level might be an extra pressure, but the supporters were amazing till now and I need them to continue what they started. This generation is unique and I believe they will achieve something for themselves and their country.
Ramadan Sobhi (Captain, Egypt)
Our target is to give our people something to cheer about. The only pressure we feel is the responsibility towards our people and country. Our target is the Olympic Games and now we are just one step far. South Africa is a good team. They might have the best defense so far, but we also have the best attack.
David Notoane (Coach, South Africa)
We are inspired by our senior team (Bafana Bafana) who defeated Egypt at home at the 2019 AFCON earlier this year. We know well how strong the Egyptians are, but we also know how to deal with them.
Darren Johnson (Goalkeeper, South Africa)
This is a huge and tough game. We came to Egypt to win the title and we fear no one. Having not conceded any goal yet makes me proud, but what's more important is to see my team winning. We will try to imitate our seniors and beat Egypt at their home.
Source: South Africa Football Association