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Jul 22, 2021 at 8.30am UK at Sapporo Dome
Egypt U23sEgypt Under-23s
Spain U23sSpain Under-23s

El Fotouh (5'), Mohamed (44'), Hegazy (78'), Galal Toeima (88')

Preview: Egypt Under-23s vs. Spain Under-23s - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Thursday's Olympic Games Men's Football clash between Egypt Under-23s and Spain Under-23s, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

A strong Spain Under-23s squad will get their Olympic Games Group C campaign under way on Thursday, when they meet Egypt Under-23s in Sapporo.

La Rojita boast a number of players from their run to the Euro 2020 semi-finals and will be favourites to get off to a winning start against a country that has qualified for the Games more than any other African nation.

Match preview

Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon pictured in March 2021© Reuters

Having only participated in three Olympic football competitions since memorably claiming gold on home soil in 1992, Spain have returned to the podium just once following their crowning as champions in Barcelona - receiving the silver medal as runners-up at Sydney 2000.

Now, current head coach Luis de la Fuente has named a 22-man selection contentiously including several men who took part in this summer's Euros under Luis Enrique - himself the nation's most-capped Olympic player, who was a member of the winning squad in '92.

In total, it includes six senior stars who featured frequently last month - Eric Garcia, Dani Olmo, Mikel Oyarzabal, Pau Torres, goalkeeper Unai Simon, and - most controversially - Barcelona's prodigious playmaker Pedri.

While his club coach Ronald Koeman believes Spain should offer him a rest after he became the first player ever to start six games in a single Euro or World Cup finals while still aged 18 or below, Pedri will be on duty in Japan, as La Rojita - plus three senior colleagues - take on Egypt, then face a mouthwatering clash with Argentina before concluding the group phase against Australia.

At the weekend, De la Fuente's talented squad took part in a warm-up friendly against Japan Under-23s - drawing 1-1 thanks to substitute Carlos Soler's 78th-minute equaliser - and he was able to give most of his players at least a brief run-out. Certainly, the former Under-19s coach will hope their brief time together can still see them forge a team spirit as demonstrated by the teams which made it to the final four of both the Under-21 and senior Euros just a matter of weeks ago.

Egypt's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring their second goal against Congo DR on June 26, 2019© Reuters

Undoubtedly, Spain will make formidable opening opponents for one of the competition outsiders Egypt this week, particularly when considering the giants of North African football have never before made it past the quarter-finals despite having made it to 15 previous Olympic Games.

The Pharaohs have, though, won the African Under-23 Championships to make it this far, while also claiming the prized scalp of a strong Brazil Under-23s side last November, coming from behind to win 2-1.

However, head coach Shawky Gharieb's hopes of coming through Group C have been diminished after they were denied permission for national icon and on-field talisman Mohamed Salah to join the cause, following Liverpool's refusal to comply when the Premier League star was named in the provisional squad.

With Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny and Galatasaray's Mostafa Mohamed also unable to make the trip east for similar reasons, it will be a largely home-based squad that attempts to upset the odds and squeeze past Spain and Argentina in the coming days.

In total, 14 players from the team that achieved qualification nearly two years ago will be available to Gharieb in Japan, so their unity could yet be a decisive factor.

Egypt Under-23s form (all competitions):
  • D
  • W
  • W

Spain Under-23s form (all competitions):
  • D

Team News

Spain's Marco Asensio is challenged by Malta's Joseph Mbong during their Euro 2020 qualifier on March 26, 2019© Reuters

In addition to a gifted set of youngsters, Spain's three over-age players this summer will be Real Sociedad's Mikel Merino and the Real Madrid pair of Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio - the latter having helped Spain to victory at the Under-19 Euros in 2015 and represented La Roja at the 2018 World Cup; scoring 16 goals from 52 appearances for his nation at various levels.

All three of those 'senior citizens' started in midfield in the friendly against Japan last week, but star man Pedri is a strong contender to break into the XI after featuring off the bench last time out.

Up front, Asensio and Dani Olmo are expected to start in support of Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Rafa Mir, though Mikel Oyarzabal and Tottenham target Bryan Gill offer further options for coach Luis de la Fuente.

Egypt, by contrast, have been frustrated by their inability to select some stars of their senior side, so named Al Ahly goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy, veteran defender Ahmed Hegazi and Mahmoud Hamdi of Zamalek as their over-age men.

Wolfsburg's Omar Marmoush was surprisingly omitted from the squad, so Ahmed Yasser Rayan and Salah Mohsen could fight it out to start up front for the Pharaohs.

Egypt Under-23s possible starting lineup:
El Shenawy; El Eraki, Hegazi, Ramadan, Fouad; Tawfik, Hamdi, Maher; Sobhi, Mohsen, Mansi

Spain Under-23s possible starting lineup:
Simon; Oscar, Torres, Garcia, Cucurella; Merino, Pedri, Ceballos; Olmo, Mir, Asensio

SM words green background

We say: Egypt Under-23s 0-2 Spain Under-23s

Much like Spain's Euros squad - packed with potential, except perhaps in the penalty area - this Olympic selection is set up to dominate the ball and break through opponents by probing patiently.

Though a well-balanced Egypt side, lacking in stars but with several players who may move to Europe soon, should not be discounted in a testing Group D, they will come up short on Thursday - with most of their efforts dedicated to chasing Spanish shadows.

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Olympic medal table header
CountryGold medalSilver MedalBronze MedalT
United StatesUnited States95822
Olympics flagOlympic Athletes from Russia57416
Great BritainGreat Britain45110
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Tuesday's key events

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· After an impressive opening day, Great Britain play their final group game against a Fiji side level with them at the top of the pool, but also yet to hit their brilliant best (1.30am)

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· Mahama Cho is another medal contender for Team GB in the men's +80kg class (2am-2.30pm)

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· Kathleen Dawson is the Team GB representative in the women's 100m backstroke final (2.51am)

· Eden Cheng and Lois Toulson will look to emulate Tom Daley and Matty Lee's success in the women's 10m synchro final (7am-8am)

· Three-time Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin is part of a Team GB team going for gold in the dressage team Grand Prix final (9.30am)

· Superstar Simone Biles leads the United States side in the women's team final (11.45am-2.10pm)

· Team GB's women's team play their final group game, taking on Canada with qualification for the knockout rounds already secured (12pm)

> Today's schedule in full
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