Can Zambia, South Africa, Ivory Coast or Egypt medal at the Tokyo Olympics?

South Africa will be captained by Tercious Malepe, photographed playing against Ghana at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Under-23 tournament, and Amaglug-glug have arguably the best draw of Africa's four Olympic qualifiers. Xinhua/Ahmed Gomaa via Getty Images

The Olympic Games are finally upon us -- a year later than planned -- and the men's and women's football competitions will kick off on July 22 amid much anticipation.

While Africa has only one representative in the women's tournament -- - Zambia -- the trio of Egypt, South Africa and Ivory Coast will feature in the men's competition as they seek to win the continent's first football gold medal in 21 years.

History is even more against the Copper Queens in the women's tournament, with Africa having never produced a winner.

We run the rule over Africa's contenders, and examine whether they have what it takes to end the continent's wait for gold.

Olympic Games Men's Football Competition


How Did They Qualify?

Winners of the Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations on home soil in 2019.

Egypt won all five of their matches and were deserved champions. Their 3-0 semifinal victory over South Africa in Cairo was particularly memorable, while the Pharaohs also provided the Golden Boot and Golden Shoe winner at the tournament.

Olympic Pedigree

More qualifications -- 15 -- than any other African nation, with a history in the competition that stretches all the way back to 1920. Their best efforts are the fourth-placed finishes in 1928 and 1964.

Star Player

Rebuilding his career back in his homeland with Pyramids after failed stints with Stoke City and Huddersfield Town, Ramadan Sobhi is a scintillating talent on his day.

He caught the eye with his dribbling, technique and wing play earlier in his career but struggled to bring it all together and impact games; nevertheless, he was the outstanding player at the Under-23 AFCON tournament.

Head Coach

Shawky Gharieb masterminded the U-23 AFCON triumph, and that is the highlight of a coaching career that stretches back over two decades.

A former Egypt international and AFCON winner, he represented the Pharaohs at the 1984 Olympics and oversaw the North Africans' bronze-medal campaign at the 2001 World Youth Championship.

Overage Interest

The prospect of Mohamed Salah making a high-profile cameo at the tournament has overshadowed Egypt's build-up, but hopes were dashed -- despite the player expressing his desire to do so -- by Liverpool's decision to prevent him from joining the Pharaohs.

The Reds' resistance is understandable, although Salah had unfinished business in the competition having fallen short at the 2012 Olympics.

Mohamed El-Shenawy, Ahmed Hegazi and Mahmoud Hamdi were the overage players ultimately chosen.

What Did They Say?

"I tried many, many times with Liverpool, as did the Egypt FA, to persuade them to let Salah be a part of the Olympic team but they refused completely.

"Mohamed wanted to play the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020; he talked with me, I did my best to bring him. Salah was a key player in my Olympic plans, but the club refused s0 we need to move on."

-- Shawky Gharieb

Luck of the Draw

Particularly difficult for the Pharaohs, who must face favourites Spain in their opener before playing Argentina -- themselves much fancied.

The North Africans will have overachieved if they're still in the running for their final fixture against Australia in Rifu on July 28.

Ivory Coast

How Did They Qualify?

Les Petits Elephants were the defeated finalists at the U-23 AFCON tournament, demonstrating their character by downing Ghana on penalties in the semifinals before taking hosts Egypt to extra-time with an 89th-minute equaliser in the final.

Olympic Pedigree

Tokyo is their second Olympic appearance, having reached the quarterfinals in 2008, when they were eliminated by Nigeria.

A team containing the likes of Gervinho, Salomon Kalou and Sekou Cisse memorably went within five minutes of taking a point from Lionel Messi's eventual champions Argentina in their opener in Shanghai.

Star Player

Manchester United centre-back Eric Bailly will play a key role for the West Africans, particularly as they face two bona fide giants in their group.

The defender was an Africa Cup of Nations winner with the senior side six years ago, but his career has been littered by injury problems and long absences in the intervening years.

He finds himself under pressure at club level, particularly in light of persistent reports linking Raphael Varane with a move to Old Trafford.

Head Coach

Soualiho Haidara is Ivory Coast's reigning coach of the year, after being crowned award at the 2020 Ivorian Sports Awards. Haidara exuded calm during the U-23 AFCON run, and he deserves credit for cultivating a strong atmosphere of unity and professionalism in his squad.

Overage Interest

Beyond Bailly, midfield powerhouse Franck Kessie is coming off the back of a superb season with AC Milan, while Max Gradel will contribute guile and leadership in the final third.

What Did They Say?

"It'll be their pre-season but they've got to come back with a medal. We need a nice feel about the place when they come back."

-- Manchester United head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Elephants' call-ups Bailly and Amad Diallo.

Luck of the Draw

Ivory Coast begin their campaign against Saudi Arabia, one of the weakest teams in the competition, but subsequent matches against Brazil and Germany will be particularly demanding.

South Africa

How Did They Qualify?

Defeated by Egypt in their U-23 AFCON semifinals, South Africa then faced Ghana in the third-placed playoff -- which was essentially a shootout to reach Tokyo. The sides drew 2-2 draw, with the Amaglug-glug twice letting a lead slip before winning 6-5 on penalties after 16 spot-kicks had been taken.

Olympic Pedigree

This is their third qualification for the men's tournament, after appearances in 2000 and 2016.

Back-to-back qualification represents a superb achievement by South Africa's Under-23 team, although a 3-1 victory against Brazil in the group stage of the 2000 tournament in Brisbane represents one of the all-time glorious triumphs in the country's football history.

That side contained the likes of Quinton Fortune, Aaron Mokoena and Benni McCarthy; could future Bafana Bafana legends be born in Tokyo?

Star Player

Tercious Malepe is a veteran of the South Africa squad from the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, and he will captain the side.

He's allowed to participate again this time around after the Olympic committee relaxed the age restrictions to acknowledge the year delay in the competition taking place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Malepe, who currently plays in Ukraine, has rebuilt his career having been deemed surplus to requirements by Orlando Pirates in 2019, after a decade in their youth structures.

Head Coach

David Notoane has built a fearless and determined unit, and he appears to be relishing the opportunity to take such a pivotal role in the South African game after the Football Association's initiative to focus on youth development.

It's not been a completely smooth road, however, with Notoane's reliance on South Africa-based players and accusations of favouritism -- he works simultaneously for Mamelodi Sundowns -- occasionally counting against him.

Overage Interest

Having initially opted to name just two overage players, Notoane is now down to one after Abbubaker Mobara pulled out of the squad.

Ronwen Williams -- Bafana's goalkeeper at the 2019 Nations Cup -- will start between the sticks as he looks to make a good impression on new senior team coach Hugo Broos.

What Did They Say?

"We are sending a team to the Tokyo Olympics. That will give the players huge opportunities, but more importantly those players going to the Olympics have been to Under-17 World Cups, Under-20 World Cups and now the Olympics. This will have helped our players to further develop." - SAFA President Danny Jordaan

Luck of the Draw

Arguably the best draw of the three African teams, with Japan and Mexico both beatable albeit the former will be determined to put on a good show in their opening fixture on home soil.

In this respect the Olympic decision not to admit fans could work in South Africa's favour, but they'll have their work cut out in match two against a France squad containing Eduardo Camavinga, Andre-Pierre Gignac and Florian Thauvin.

Olympic Games Women's Football Competition


How Did They Qualify?

Zambia won CAF's Olympic qualifying tournament -- a campaign that began in April 2019 -- by defeating Cameroon on away goals after a 4-4 draw in the two-legged final.

Having been awarded walkovers against Angola and Zimbabwe, Zambia defeated only three sides -- Botswana, Kenya and Cameroon -- to reach Tokyo.

Olympic Pedigree

They are debut qualifiers, having failed to reach the Games on three occasions previously. Further demonstrating their lack of competition experience, Zambia have won only one game in the history of the African Women's Cup of Nations.

Star Player

Racheal Kundananji will skipper the side, and she has been in sensational form in Chinese football since moving to Shanghai Shengli from Logrono in 2020.

She was top scorer in the Chinese Women's Super League in 2020, finishing the campaign on 18 goals -- nine more than her nearest rival.

Barbra Banda and Grace Chanda are other names to note.

Head Coach

Bruce Mwape was appointed as Albert Kachinga's replacement in May 2018, and he has been celebrated in his homeland for guiding Zambia's women to their first Olympic Games.

He has also held head coach roles in the men's game in the Zambian Super League.

Overage Interest

The women's Olympic tournament is a full international competition with no age restrictions, although defender Anita Mulenga and forward Hellen Mubanga (both 26) will be the experienced heads in the camp.

What Did They Say?

"I don't think at my level I would feel intimidated by any team. I am not scared, and my team mates are not scared. The group is fairly drawn, so we are just ready for the games and we are ready for any team."

-- Banda on the Olympic draw

Luck of the Draw

Daunting! China are eight-time Asian champions and have reached the Olympic knockouts on three occasions, while the Netherlands are ranked No. 4 in the world and Brazil are... well... Brazil.

Zambia, ranked No. 104 in the world, have many amateur players in their ranks, and are the outsiders to escape from the group. Their second group game, against a China side that also has a swathe of inexperienced players, represents their best opportunity to pick up points.