Famed soccer coach Le Roy turns sights to Olympics

By David Legge ,AFP

JOHANNESBURG — Highly successful Africa Cup of Nations coach Claude le Roy adjusts his sights Saturday toward the 2016 Rio Olympic Games soccer qualifiers. His Congo Brazzaville team enter the competition against 1992 bronze medalists Ghana at Accra Sports Stadium in the first leg of a second-round eliminator. The two-leg winners secure a showdown with Nigeria, who at the 1996 Atlanta Games became the first African winners of the soccer tournament. Veteran France-born Le Roy takes a strong squad to Ghana, including four of the players who reached the 2015 Cup of Nations quarterfinals in Equatorial Guinea. The quartet with senior national squad experience are goalkeepers Christoffer Mafoumbi and Pavelh Ndzila, defender Sagesse Babele and striker Sylvere Ganvoula. Young stars based in France, Spain and Israel have also been enlisted by Le Roy as the central African nation seek a first Olympics soccer finals appearance. The clash with Ghana pits 67-year-old Le Roy against an even older rival coach in 70-year-old former Ghana star Malik Jabir. Congo received a first-round bye in qualifiers restricted to under-23 soccer players while Ghana overcame fellow-west Africans Liberia 7-1 on aggregate. Liberia were forced to play both legs in Ghana because of the Ebola epidemic. Le Roy guided Cameroon to the 1988 Cup of Nations title and seven of the eight teams he coached at the tournament qualified for the knockout stages. Among those were Ghana, who came third as 2008 hosts under his guidance. There are six other first legs, including several regional clashes set to attract good attendances. Botswana host Zambia at Lobatse Stadium south of Gaborone having surprised Kenya with an away-goal success after both sides achieved three-goal home triumphs. ��We struggled in Kenya because of stage fright and have worked on that,�� promised Botswana coach Pio Paul. Zambia are sure to give Botswana striker Omaatla Kebatho special attention as he scored twice against Kenya in Lobatse and also snatched the crucial away goal in Nairobi. Rwanda defeated Somalia at home and drew away in the first round and confront fellow-east Africans Uganda in Kigali. The major concern of 29-year-old Irish coach Johnny McKinstry about his Rwandans is lack-luster finishing. ��We created so many chances against the Somalis, but managed only three goals in 180 minutes. Uganda could punish us if we do not improve that ratio,�� he warned. Zimbabwe play Swaziland in Harare, Tunisia face Sudan in Tunis suburb Rades and Mauritania meet Mali in Nouakchott. Sierra Leone had to cede home advantage to Cameroon because of Ebola virus fears with the first leg switched from Freetown to Yaounde.

Return matches are scheduled for the weekend of May 29-31.