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From Dismissed Minnows to Tournament Darlings: How Madagascar Has Won Hearts in Egypt

Antananarivo is the scene of pure delight this minute and this joy is brought to Malagasies by their Bareas whose performances is the enigma enchanting hearts in Egypt.

It must be said that they arrived in Cairo as a nation of 24 million people who have never qualified for a World Cup nor ever been to an Africa Cup of Nations. Many had resolved they’d only come to make the numbers and tour the sites the North African nation has got to offer.

In short, they were written off and hardly named amongst sides considered potential upset-makers in this year’s African Cup.  Senegal were the sole notables from the pool The Bareas qualified from.

Sudan and Equatorial Guinea are the other sides –rarely any footballing hotbeds.

The Taranga Lions headlined the group –to be exact group A – on sixteen points winning all games with the exception of their first meeting with an assiduous Madagascar which ended 2-2 in a four-goal-thriller at the Stade Municpal de Mahamasina, sometime last September.

The West Africans would sashay over the island country in the return pairing with a Mbaye Niang’s brace settling it at the Stade Lat Dior.

But then the Southern African country has already risen to some levels and made their presence felt in world football having secured qualification to the Afcon for the first time.

Led by a coach, a certain Nicolas Dupuis whose only experience is fifth tier football in France prior to his appointment by fourth division Fleury 91, The Bareas are easy to dismiss at a first glance on paper.


However, not all that is drawn up of statistics on white sheets about teams is true reflection of events on the ground in a sport packed with surprises. Madagascar are that undercurrent whose potent is only obvious after the wreck is done.

Given a US$192,000 token for their display accompanied with a US$1.6m Total Afcon budget by the government of Andry Rajoelina, shows profound trust in a team whose chances bookmarkers have long underscored.

Gone are the days when history is a yardstick for success. Huge upsets are not uncommon in our part of the continent with every team –from minnows to juggernauts –mastering craft of the passing game. Such is how the sport has evolved that traditional big name outfits know they’re in for a cracker once pitted with a lesser opposition.

From the events that ensued today, sending shock waves across the continent, it won’t take long to see majority pundits swallow their assessment of teams beginning with the Malagasies.

With a squad of fringe players, a third of whom are in the lower echelons in France, The Bareas teed off their Afcon campaign with a 2-2 draw against a star-studded Guinea Conakry with 29-year-old Anicet Abel Andrianantenaina, a peripheral player for Bulgaria’s Ludogorets scoring their first ever Nations Cup goal.

With an intense passing game and a robust man-to-man style of marking, Guinea were pressured into retreating to their backline to defend a corner.

The resultant effort landed on unmarked Anicet’s head who butted it backwards as goalkeeper Aly Keita sprang to action to no avail.

Winger Charles Carolus Andrianamatsinoro added to that beauty with a quick one-touch control of the ball before burying it home.

Skipper Francois Kamano would level matters for Guinea from the spot-kick after Napoli’s Amadou Diawara was bundled in the box for a final 2-2 score.

Against Burundi, the islanders again turned on the magic trick with Marco Ilaimaharitra of Belgium Sporting Charleroi volunteering to deliver the goal – a sumptuous free-kick pummeled to the back of the net of a stupefied goalkeeper Jonathan Nahimana.

After this, most began taking notice and keeping tabs on the progress of Madagascar with tonight’s victory over Nigeria a clear statement of intent from the tournament’s minnows.

It was a move that caught the football world napping.

Aided by defender Leon-Aderemi Balagoun’s howler, Lalaina Nomenjanahary snatched ball off the Brighton new arrival and coaxed out the advancing goalkeeper then slotting home.

The Super Eagles battled to come back but were left gobsmacked when defender Adnriamatsinoro’s free-kick deflected off Wilfred Ndidi into the net for a 2-0 score.

Ahmed Musa’s head in hands gesture, in reaction to the second goal, summed it all up for Nigeria.

With a march to the last-16 a feat already achieved, a confidence-brimming Madagascar can dare to dream.


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