Madagascar's Epic Adventure to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations

Updated on November 7, 2019
Antonio Martinez1 profile image

Antonio Martinez graduated from Montclair State University with a BA in History and a double minor in Russian Area Studies and Journalism.

Madagascar's Thomas Fontaine (#21) and Romain Métanire (#20) celebrate following the conclusion of a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Round of 16 match against DR Congo in Alexandria, Egypt. Madagascar reached the quarterfinals in its debut.
Madagascar's Thomas Fontaine (#21) and Romain Métanire (#20) celebrate following the conclusion of a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Round of 16 match against DR Congo in Alexandria, Egypt. Madagascar reached the quarterfinals in its debut. | Source

Surprises are often bound to show up when least expected; the Africa Cup of Nations has been no exception. Most surprises involve nations that have awaited to end a long drought. Unprecedented had a nation went from preliminaries to a quarterfinal appearance of a major tournament. In two years, Madagascar pulled off something historic.

Not only would Madagascar qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, but it backed up its qualfiication by making it to the quaterfinals in their debut at the tournament. When the tournament finished, Madagascar became Africa's version of Iceland that won the hearts of neutrals worldwide.

A Nemesis Befalls in the 1990s and early 2000s

Thought Madagascar played its first qualifier back on Nov. 15, 1970, it was not until the 1990s when Madagascar had its first chances at reaching a major tournament. On four occasions during the next decade had one east African nation derailed Madagascar's chances at advancing: Zambia. Madagascar began qualification for the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations with a 1-0 road victory in Luanda, Angola - Harry Randrianivo scoring the lone goal of that match. That preceded a scoreless draw at home to Zambia on Sept. 1, 1990. Just over seven months later on Apr. 14, 1991, Pierre Raveloson Kelly's lone goal in Lobamba, Swaziland gave Madagascar another crucial road victory. Madagascar would get an additional lifeline from Swaziland - two weeks after that match, Swaziland upset Zambia 2-1.

However, Madagascar could not capitalize and only managed a scoreless draw at home to Angola. This result made Madagascar's road game in Lusaka a must-win game. Chalry Musonda and Lakusha Bwalya put Zambia up 2-0. Zambia went on to win the match and a berth at the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations.

Nearly two years elapsed before Madagascar traveled to the same stadium in Zambia. It came on Feb. 27, 1993, as both teams met during qualification for the 1994 World Cup. Madagascar had won its first three qualifiers, including a 2-0 victory against Zambia on Dec. 20, 1992. With Tanzania having withdrawn during qualification and its results annulled, Madagascar was leading the group ahead of the final match, where a draw would suffice passage to the final round. However, Madagascar surrendered two goals in four minutes. Bwalya and Timothy Mwitwa's goals in the second put Zambia in control; despite a goal from Etienne Rasoanaivo, Madagascar suffered another elimination in Zambia.

After defeating Swaziland in a preliminary round, Madagascar faced DR Congo, Zambia, and Kenya for a spot at the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations. Madagascar's lone win of this qualifying phase occurred Feb. 28, 1999, in a 3-1 victory over DR Congo. For the third time in eight years, Madagascar suffered elimination at Zambia in a qualifying campaign - this time, a 3-0 loss in Chililabombwe on Jun. 6, 1999.

After another preliminary round victory over Botswana, Madagascar commenced its 2002 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign in Lusaka, Zambia. This time, Madagascar overcame an early deficit in its opening match as goals from Jean Natal Ratsimialona and Harry Randrianiavo helped Madagascar win 2-1 on Sept. 2, 2000. That would be Madagascar's lone qualifying victory as Zambia exacted revenge nine months later to knock out Madagascar yet again. This time, it came on Jun. 16, 2001 at Stade Municipal de Mahamasina, Madagascar's national stadium in Antananarivo. Misheck Lungu's lone goal 13 minutes sent Zambia through to the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations.

Beginning with Optimism, but Yielding Nothing

On Sept. 7, 2002, Madagascar had a daunting opening 2004 African Cup of Nations qualifier. However, Ruffin Menahely's goal 17 minutes from time gave Madagascar its most significant result at the time - a 1-0 victory over Egypt. Menahely also scored the lone goal in another 1-0 victory, this time in Mauritius's Centre de Flaq. With Guinea-Bissau's withdrawal decreasing the group to three nations, only one team would qualify from the group.

So Madagascar needed a result in Egypt, but open the game poorly. Egypt's Besheer El-Tabei scored the opening minute and Mido scored in a third straight qualifying match for Egypt. When Ahmed Belal added his fourth goal, Madagascar lost 6-0 to Egypt. Madagascar still had a chance at qualification (albeit requiring a hefty goal differential) at home to Mauritius. However, goals from Christopher Perle and Kersley Appou confirmed Madagascar's elimination.

Madagascar's next qualifying campaign ended in gut-wrenching fashion - that of qualification for the 2006 FIFA World Cup (doubling with 2006 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers). After drawing at home to Benin 1-1, Madagascar raced to a 2-0 lead in Cotonou's Stade de l'Amitie, with goals from Jean Jacques Radonamahafalison and Alain Rakotondramanana. Throughout that match, Madagascar hung on, hoping to reach the next phase of qualifying. Even heading into injury time, Madagascar would have advanced - that was until Oumar Tchomogo completed his hat trick two minutes into injury time. If Madagascar's campaign was heartbreaking, then its next qualifying campaign was forgettable.

Madagascar failed to score a goal during its four losses in its 2008 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. That run included its most lopsided of the four defeats, a 5-0 loss on Jun. 3, 2007 in a match that occurred in Bouake,Cote d'Ivoire for which Ivorian forward Didier Drogba, who scored the final goal, requested with the president.

Outclassed in Bouake

From Hope to the Doldrums

Stade Municipal de Mahamasina was the site of Madagascar's home match against Comoros on Oct. 14, 2007, where it kicked off the first of nearly 200 qualifiers for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations (doubling with 2010 World Cup qualifying). Despite allowing an early goal from Daoud Midtadi, Madagascar took control of this two-legged tie. Faneva Imà Andriatsima scored four goals in the first leg, including a penalty kick in the 49th minute. Rija Rakotomandimby scored goals in both legs, and Lalaïna Nomenjanahary added two goals in the second leg in Mitsamiouli, Comoros as Madagascar cruised 10-2 on aggregate.

Up next were were six more qualifying matches in roughly four months as it faced Côte d'Ivoire, Mozambique, and Botswana. Madagascar's first goal in this round did not come until the third game, when Guy Hubert Mamihasindrahona scored a 90th-minute goal at home against Mozambique on Jun. 15, 2008. Madagascar notched three draws in its first three matches and sought to reach the next round. Any momentum Madagascar had evaporated seven days later, where it lost 3-0 in Maputo, Mozambique.

Before its next qualifier at home to Botswana, Madagascar participated in the COSAFA Cup, where it had its then-best finish in history. Stéphane Praxis Rabemananjara scored three goals during that tournament, including the winning goal against Angola's under-20 team on Jul. 30. Six weeks later, Rabemananjara scored the only goal with 18 minutes elapsed as Madagascar had a chance to advance. However, Madagascar could not emulate another result against Côte d'Ivoire in Abidjan as another result played a factor. Mozambique had led Botswana 1-0 since the 6th minute and would win by that same scoreline. Madagascar would lose 3-0 as Boubacar Sanogo scored twice and Salomon Kalou added a penalty kick to send Madagascar out of the tournament.

Over the next six qualification campaigns for the Africa Cup of Nations and the World, Madagascar won only three out the 22 qualifiers. When FIFA released its monthly rankings on Mar. 13, 2014, Madagascar sunk to its all-time low at 190th.

Madagascar's players (white jerseys) line up ahead of a 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Oct. 8, 2011. Madagascar lost the match 4-2
Madagascar's players (white jerseys) line up ahead of a 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Oct. 8, 2011. Madagascar lost the match 4-2 | Source

Beginning the Long Road

Returning to the international scene involved becoming relevant in its sub-confederation, let alone Africa. Though its rose slowly, Madagascar achieved a significant milestone in a former World Cup venue - Royal Bakofeng Stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa. It was during the 2015 COSAFA Cup and at this venue where the 148th-ranked Madagascar, after winning its group, upset 25th-ranked Ghana in a quarterfinal. Madagascar finished with a bronze medal and Sarivahy Vonbola, with five goals, finished as the tournament's top goalscorer as Madagascar also won the Fair Play award.

That tournament provided confidence for Madagascar ahead of its 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, which started with an aggregate victory against the Central African Republic. Madagascar was up 2-0 against Senegal with Andriatsima and Njiva Rakotoharimalala scoring goals in either half. Unfortunately, Madagascar failed to keep the lead as Senegal scored twice in 10 minutes. That period swung the momentum and Senegal knocked out Madagascar 5-2 on aggregate.

Madagascar fared worse during its 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign, as it failed to win any of its six qualifiers. The notable disappointment came in a 6-1 home loss played on Jun. 5, 2016 in the northwestern city Mahajanga. Just three months before that match, the Central African Republic, whom Madagascar knocked out of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, exacted revenge with a 2-1 result on Mar. 28, 2016.

Less than a year after that loss, Madagascar commenced another qualification campaign with a new head coach: Nicholas Dupuis, having become the manager in March 2017. Before being Madagascar's coach, Dupuis had two stints with AS Yzeure of France's fourth division - the latter in which the club's notable achievement was an upset of Lorient during the Round of 64 of the 2013-14 French Cup.

The draw for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualification phase occurred on Jan. 12, 2017. Madagascar was the sixth-worst African nation and needed a preliminary round to reach the group stage. Madagascar managed to win that phase to reach the group stage that involved Sudan, Senegal, and Equatorial Guinea. The first qualifier occurred n Jun. 9, 2017 at Al-Ubayyid, Sudan, where Madagascar's 3-1 victory got the nation off to a good start. However, the next qualifier, scheduled in March 2018, would not occur until 18 months later.

Madagascar's Andriamirado Hasina (#10) battles for possession with South Africa's Matlhari Makaringe (#11) during a 2018 COSAFA Cup quarterfinal in Polokwane, South Africa. Madagascar eliminated the hosts on a penalty shootout.
Madagascar's Andriamirado Hasina (#10) battles for possession with South Africa's Matlhari Makaringe (#11) during a 2018 COSAFA Cup quarterfinal in Polokwane, South Africa. Madagascar eliminated the hosts on a penalty shootout. | Source
Senegals' Kalidou Koulibaly (#3) and Madagascar's Ima Fanev Andriatsima battle for possession during a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations match. The 2-2 draw was marred by a stampede that killed one person and left 37 people injured.
Senegals' Kalidou Koulibaly (#3) and Madagascar's Ima Fanev Andriatsima battle for possession during a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations match. The 2-2 draw was marred by a stampede that killed one person and left 37 people injured. | Source

More Magic and History in South Africa

On Jul. 20, 2017, the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) approved the expansion of the Africa Cup of Nations to 24 nations, as well as a move to have the tournament played in June and July. That meant that the top two countries in each group qualified directly to the Africa Cup of Nations. As a result, the CAF rescheduled the remaining Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers to later dates.
In the weeks following the expansion of the Africa Cup of Nations, Madagascar hoped to make history in qualifying for another tournament. However, only a Dani Massunguna for Angola denied Madagascar a chance at qualifying for the 2018 African Nations Championship.

However, Madagascar made up that disappointment with an exceptional performance at the 2018 COSAFA Cup in South Africa. There, Madagascar finished fourth as its significant result occurred on Jun. 3, 2018. After surviving group play, Madagascar knocked the hosts out via a penalty shootout. Tobiosa Njakanirina scored the deciding penalty kick in Polokwane's Peter Mokaba Stadium after the game finished scoreless.

Three months later, Madagascar resumed its Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign. It would be a game in which Madagascar proved it could compete with Africa's best, having overcome deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 at home. Paulin Voavy scored his first goals since the preliminaries against Sao Tome e Principe, while an own goal from Kalidou Koulibaly gave Madagascar a vital point.

However, a deadly event marred this 2-2 match before it started.

People crowded the only entrance to Stade Municipal de Mahamasina. The chaos caused a stampede that left one dead and nearly 40 injured. Following the incident event, the CAF banned Madagascar from playing at the national stadium. Two games in four days against one opponent would see Madagascar made history.

On Oct. 13, 2018, Madagascar recorded a vital road victory in Bata as Andriatisma's goal was the difference against Equatorial Guinea. Three days later, Madagascar faced Equatorial Guinea again in Antananarivo's Vontovorona Stadium. His last goals came during a two-legged series against Mozambique during 2018 African Nations Championship qualifying. With 42 minutes elapsed, Njiva Rakotoharimalala scored to put Madagascar on the precipice of history. When the full time whistle blew, the unthinkable happened.

Madagascar, having begun in the preliminary round, not only qualified for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations but were the first nation to do so. This was impressive for a country that over its history in qualifying has withdrawn, failed to qualify, been banned or not entered qualifying in its history.

Feel Good Story

All Eight Qualifiers on the Road to Egypt

São Tomé and Príncipe (A)
Estádio Nacional 12 de Julho, São Tomé
1-0 Madagascar
São Tomé and Príncipe (H)
Stade Municipal de Mahamasina, Antananarivo
3-2 Madagascar
Sudan (A)
Al-Ubayyid Stadium, Al-Ubayyid
3-1 Madagascar
Senegal (H)
Stade Municipal de Mahamasina, Antananarivo
Equatorial Guinea (A)
Estadio de Bata
1-0 Madagascar
Equatoria Guinea (H)
Vontovorona Stadium, Antananarivo
1-0 Madagascar
Sudan (H)
Vontovorona Stadium, Antananarivo
3-1 Sudan
Senegal (A)
Stade Lat Dior, Thiès
2-0 Senegal
Madagascar qualified for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations on 10/16/2018. Madagascar had to play home qualifiers in Vontovorona Stadium against Equatorial Guinea and Sudan as punshiment for a stampede during a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier agains

Beginning a Journey Unlike any Other

Despite losing the remaining two qualifiers, Madagascar would be preparing to play at the Africa Cup of Nations, where it would face Guinea, Burundi and Nigeria in its first foray at the tournament. In preparation, Madagascar traveled to Luxembourg where they fell early after only two minutes in a friendly on June 2, 2019. Madagascar came back with goals from Voavy, Andriatsima, and Andriamatsinoro to lead 3-1 against Luxembourg. Madagascar managed to give up two injury time goals as the match finished 3-3.

Madagascar's roster featured players from various clubs. Voavy, Madagascar's most capped player, plays his club football in Egypt with El Makkasa. Many of the players participate in France, including Andriatsima (who plays for Claremont Foot in Ligue 2). Also, Madagascar not only had one of five players to play club football in North America but Romain Métanire, who debuted in the 2-2 draw with Senegal back in September 2018, was the tournament only player from Major League Soccer, as Métanire played with FC Minnesota United.

Madagascar opened tournament play against Guinea, a nation it met twice in four months in 2011 - both matches being qualifiers for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, one of which Madagascar was able to get its only point of qualifying. In Alexandria, Madagascar trailed 1-0 at halftime in its first Africa Cup of Nations match; four minutes into the second half, history unfolded. Anicet Abel Andrianantenaina scored his only other goal during a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying match against the Central African Republic. Andriamahitsinoro found Andrianantenaina nearly the penalty, the latter heading in Madagascar's first Africa Cup of Nations goal.

Madagascar continue to press forward and six minutes later, Andriamahitsinoro puts Madagascar ahead and on the cusp of a win in its debut. However, Métanire fouls Ibrahima Traoré in the penalty area, and it allowed François Kamano to score the penalty into the bottom right corner. Still, Madagascar hung on to record the 2-2 draw.

Madagascar next faced Burundi in the teams first-ever meeting. Before the tournament, this match would likely decide third place in the group and a possible Round of 16 berth. With the game scoreless until 16 minutes from time, another unlikely source provided history. A member of Belgium's Sporting Charleroi, Marco Ilaimaharitra took advantage of an Omar Ngandu foul by launching a free kick into the top left corner. Ilaimaharitra's first goal for Madagascar had the nation on the precipice of a knockout berth. However, Madagascar would have to pull off another result with an African heavyweight.

One of Africa's Shocking Upsets

Dreamland at Alexandra and the Ensuing Optimism

Madagascar had faced Nigeria on four previous occasions - twice each during qualifying at both the 2002 and 2012 Africa Cup of Nations campaigns. However, Madagascar never scored against Nigeria and a win was imperative, as second place in its group meant having to face the defending champions Cameroon out of Group F in the Round of 16.

Madagascar got timely goals in its first two games from unheralded sources in Alexandria; for the third straight game, it would happen again due to an uncharacteristic Nigeria error. A weak square pass from John Ogu to Leon Balogun allowed Nomenjanahary, who last for country scored on Nov. 17, 2007, to pounce on the ball and score. Early in the second half, Madagascar had a free kick after a foul from Nigeria's Wilfred Ndidi and Andriamahitsinoro scored on the ensuing free kick. Nigeria used its substitutions to spark a comeback, but when the final whistle blew, Madagascar had arguably one of the tournament's most notable upsets.

Not only did the 2-0 victory over Nigeria clinch Group B for Madagascar, but it would not have to travel far as its Round of 16 meeting with DR Congo would also be in Alexandria. This match would be the teams' first meeting since Madagascar's embarrassing 6-1 loss back in 2016. Madagascar was seeking to defeat its opponent for the first time in 19 years; it would begin in style after only nine minutes when Ibrahim Amada launched a 20-yard strike to put Madagascar ahead. Cedric Bakambu replied for DR Congo in the 21st minute.

Madagascar retook the lead with Andriatsima and looked to reach the quarterfinals in regulation. Madagascar even survived a no-call as it nearly allowed a penalty to DR Congo under controversial circumstances. However, Chancel Mbemba scored in the 90th minute, and the match would go to extra time. No scoring occurred during the extra time, and penalties determined the outcome. Two critical misses unfolded during the shootout. Following Amada's initial strike to commence the shootout, Marcel Tisserand skied his attempt too high. After the teams exchange goals, Jerome Mombris put Madagascar up 4-2. That put the pressure on Yannick Bolasie, but he also skied his attempt.

Madagascar accomplished the unthinkable and reached the quarterfinals. Now the island nation hoped to be the first debutante to reach the semifinals in 23 years. Against Tunisia, Madagascar held its opponent for over 50 minutes. However, two goals in eight minutes, plus a stoppage time goal, ended Madagascar's historic foray in the Africa Cup of Nations.

In the process throughout the Africa Cup of Nations, Madagascar did more than d play in a major tournament. The nation provided the feel good story of a competition that needed something to spark interest. In reaching the quarterfinals, Madagascar proved that it was more than just a movie, but that it was a real-life action-adventure that lifted a nation and set a standard for future tournaments.

That Magical Summer in Egypt

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Antonio Martinez


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