Madagascar reach finals for first time
History beckons for the Malagasy after half a century
After almost 50 years and 16 attempts at qualifying, Madagascar will play in the African Nations Cup finals following a 1-0 victory over Equatorial Guinea. Njiva Rakot oh a rim al al a’ s42n d-minute goal in the highland town of Vontovorona ensured a nervy win and an unassailable position in the top two of Group A.
Victory in Sudan in their opening game in June last year set the tone and they have been led to new heights by Nicolas Dupuis, a feisty Frenchman who has been in charge since February 2017. Much of that success has come from the coach persuading French-born talent such as Thomas Fontaine, Jerome Mombris, Fabien Boyer and Roman Metanire to play for the country. Ligue 1 players Zacharie Boucher of Angers and Strasbourg’s Ludovic Ajorque could also be persuaded to commit to the cause as Dupuis begins preparations for the finals.
Football on the island nation remains mostly undeveloped and amateur, and the Malagasy have also been largely isolated because of their geographical position to the east of the continent.
“When I was named coach said that the team had to play more friendlies,” says Dupuis. “Playing three or four games a year would not help us advance.
“Since then, we’ve used all the FIFA dates to play friendly matches. I also set about recruiting players with Malagasy roots and selling them the ambitions we had. They’ve all taken up the challenge and become deeply involved in our project. We’ve gone through a rich and unique experience.”
The decisive match had to be played away from their usual home venue, the Mahamasina Stadium in the capital Antananarivo, after one fan was killed and 41 others injured in a stampede in October when they drew with Senegal. That led to a three-match stadium ban and Madagascar’s next home qualifier – against Sudan – will be played at a smaller club stadium in Antananarivo.
Joining them in Cameroon next summer will be Senegal, who topped their group, and Egypt and Tunisia, who occupy the first two places in Group J, where minnows Niger and e Swatini (formerly Swaziland) provided little opposition.
November’s penultimate round of games – the top two in 11 of the 12 groups will go through to the finals next June – should go a long way to delivering more teams for the expanded field at the 2019 finals, including one or two other potential newcomers.
Burundi and Mauritania are still in the race to book a first-ever berth at the finals and bring to 42 the number of countries who have played at the finals.
Burundi, for whom Saido Berahino made his debut in September, are chasing a top-two finish in Group C, while Mauritania, coached by former France midfielder Corentin Martins, lead Group I after beating Angola in their last game and will qualify if they beat Botswana in Nouakchott on November 18.
Guinea, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Uganda and Zimbabwe should also book their places, while Kenya must await CAF’s decision on what to do about Sierra Leone, whose two games against Ghana in October were called off when FIFA issued a ban for government interference in the football association.
CAF could award both matches 3-0 to Ghana or disqualify Sierra Leone, in which case their results will be expunged. Either outcome would see Kenya go through to the finals.
Unusual...celebrations have been rare for Madagascar