African Nations Cup debutants Madagascar punching above their weight
Before the African Nations Cup kicked off in Egypt last month, Madagascar were best known for the tongue-twisting surnames of players such as Anicet Andrianantenaina and Charles Andriamahitsinoro.
Now, 20 days into the biennial tournament, the Indian Ocean islanders have stunned three-time champions Nigeria and are preparing to face Tunisia tomorrow morning (Singapore time) in the last quarter-final.
While France-born coach Nicolas Dupuis insisted "the team are the star", midfielder Andrianantenaina and forward Andriamahitsinoro have caught the eye.
Bulgaria-based Andrianantenaina was among the 11 footballers chosen by a Confederation of African Football panel as the best in the 36-match group phase.
Andriamahitsinoro, who plays for a Saudi Arabian club, made the substitutes' list in the group "dream team", and his two goals have put him in contention for the Golden Boot award.
"The coach is correct to say the team are the star and, sometimes, an individual will stand out when we need him to. That is our strength," explained Andriamahitsinoro.
He stands out on the field because he has blond dyed hair and is tall in a squad of mostly medium-height footballers.
Tunisia coach Alain Giresse said his first target of a last-eight place has been achieved, adding: "We are capable of lifting the trophy 15 years after doing so for the first time."
Tunisia were unimpressive in their run to the quarter-finals, accumulating four straight draws.
Madagascar, on the other hand, defeated fellow debutants Burundi 1-0 and went one better when they beat African powerhouses Nigeria 2-0. While they were held by Guinea and DR Congo, they impressed with their eye-pleasing football.
Should Madagascar eliminate the more experienced Tunisia, they will become the first Nations Cup debutants since South Africa in 1996 to reach the semi-finals.
There, they will face the winners of the Senegal-Benin clash which was played this morning.
Nigeria also clashed with South Africa this morning, with the winners taking on the victors of the Ivory Coast-Algeria match tomorrow. - AFP