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

Updated on June 20, 2020
Antonio Martinez1 profile image

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

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, and the Africa Cup of Nations has been no exception. Most of these surprises involve nations who either debut in the tournament or appear after a lengthy absence.

Unprecedented had a nation played from preliminaries to a quarterfinal appearance of a major tournament. In a span of two years, Madagascar pulled off something uncanny after being sixth-worst in the continent.

Not only would Madagascar qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations, but it would be the first nation to do so. Madagascar followed that up with a debut performance that hadn't happened in 23 years: a quarterfinal appearance in their debut at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. Madagascar achieved history, and when the tournament finished, they became Africa's Icelandic version won the hearts of people worldwide. Not bad for a nation whose journey included eliminations in must-win situations.

A Nemesis Befalls

Madagascar played its first continental qualifier on Nov. 15, 1970 - a 2-1 first-leg home victory against Mauritius in a 1972 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. However, it was in the 1990s when Madagascar had its first realistic chances at reaching a major tournament. On four occasions, Zambia derailed Madagascar's qualification campaign.

Madagascar began its 1992 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying in Angola, with Harry Randrianivo scoring the lone goal in Luanda. 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, courtesy of that nation's 2-1 win against Zambia. Madagascar failed to capitalize on that result with a scoreless home draw against Angola. That made Madagascar's road game in Lusaka a must-win game. Charly Musonda and Lakusha Bwalya put Zambia up 2-0, and the hosts qualified for the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations.

Nearly two years elapsed before Madagascar visited the same stadium in another crucial match on Feb. 27, 1993, in another World Cup qualifying match. Madagascar had won its three qualifiers, including a 2-0 victory against Zambia on Dec. 20, 1992. But Zambia scored the opening goal 14 minutes in thanks to Kelvin Mutale. Madagascar only required a draw to advance to the final round but surrendered two goals in four minutes. Bwalya and Timothy Mwitwa's goals in the second put Zambia in control. Etienne Rasoanaivo's consolation goal was not enough to stop Zambia from reaching the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations.

After defeating Swaziland over two legs, Madagascar would face 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 victory over Botswana, Madagascar commenced its qualifying campaign for the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations in Lusaka, Zambia. This time, Madagascar pulled off a shock road triumph. Goals from Jean Natal Ratsimialona and Randrianiavo helped Madagascar win 2-1 on Sept. 2, 2000. This result proved to be Madagascar's lone victory in qualifying. Zambia, once again, knocked out Madagascar at Stade Municipal de Mahamasina in Antananarivo on Jun. 16, 2001. Misheck Lungu's lone goal sent Zambia to the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations.

Optimism that Yielded Nothing

On Sept. 7, 2002, Madagascar had a daunting task in its group stage opener in qualifying for the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations. Ruffin Menahely's goal 17 minutes from time would be enough to hand Madagascar its most significant result to date. Menahely also scored the lone goal in Madagascar's next match, with that coming in Centre de Flac, Mauritius. In a group in which Guinea-Bissau withdrew, only one team would qualify.

That meant Madagascar needed a result in Egypt. But in its road match in Port Said, Madagascar allowed Besheer El-Tabei to scored in the opening minute. Ahmed Hossam Hussein Abdelhamid, commonly known as Mido, recorded a goal for a third straight qualifying match. When Ahmed Belal added his fourth goal, Madagascar lost 6-0 in Egypt. The hosts had two weeks prior defeated Mauritius 7-0. Even with a slim chance of qualifying, Madagascar lost its final qualifier at home to Mauritius. Goals from Christopher Perle and Kersley Appou confirmed Madagascar's elimination.

The next major qualifying campaign for Madagascar ended in gut-wrenching fashion: qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup (that doubling with 2006 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying). After drawing at home 1-1 against Benin, Madagascar raced to a 2-0 lead in Cotonou's Stade de l'Amitie, with goals from Jean Jacques Radonamahafalison and Alain Rakotondramanana. Madagascar hung on desperately to reach the next round. Even heading into injury time, Madagascar was ahead on away goals tiebreaker. But Oumar Tchomogo completed his hat trick two minutes into injury time to send Benin through at Madagascar's expense.

Madagascar's 2008 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign proved forgettable: no goals in its four qualifying losses. The most lopsided of the four defeats was a 5-0 loss on Jun. 3, 2007, at Cote d'Ivoire. That match occurred in Bouake, for which Ivorian forward Didier Drogba, who scored the fifth goal, made possible due to a request he made with the president.

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

From Hope to the Doldrums

Stade Municipal de Mahamasina was the site of Madagascar's home match against Comoros on Oct. 14, 2007, where the venue kicked off the first of nearly 200 qualifiers for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations (and also the 2010 World Cup). Despite allowing an early goal from Daoud Midtadi, Madagascar tool 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 Henintsoa Nomenjanahary tallied two goals in the second leg in Mitsamiouli, Comoros, as Madagascar cruised to a 10-2 aggregate victory.

Up next for Madagascar were six more qualifying matches in the second round in roughly four months as it would face Côte d'Ivoire, Mozambique, and Botswana. Madagascar's first goal in this round did not come until the third game, but it happened when it mattered - Guy Hubert Mamihasindrahona scoring a 90th-minute goal at home against Mozambique on Jun. 15, 2008. Madagascar recorded an opening three draws and sought to advance to the upcoming round. Any momentum Madagascar evaporated seven days later, where it lost 3-0 in Maputo.

Before its following 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 in Jul. 30. Six weeks later, on Sept. 7, 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 notable tournaments, Madagascar it won only three of its 22 qualifiers. It was during this period where Madagascar sunk into the footballing abyss; on Mar. 13, 2014, Madagascar ranked 190th in the FIFA Rankings.

Beginning the Long Road

Returing to the international scene meant becoming relevant in its sub-confederation, let alone Africa. Madagascar's first significant milestone came in a former World Cup venue: Royal Bakofeng Stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa, one of the host venues of the 2015 COSAFA Cup. It was at this venue that Madagascar not only topped its qualifying group but also upset 25th-ranked Ghana in the quarterfinals. Madagascar would finish third in the tournament, its best tournament finish to date, as well as winning both the Fair Play award and also has Sarivahy Vonbola (five) finish as the tournament's top goalscorer.

This result gave Madagascar confidence ahead of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. After defeating the Central African Republic in the first round, Madagascar was up 2-0 against Senegal, with Andriatsima and Njiva Rakotoharimalala scoring the goal in either half. Madagascar hoped to keep the result this way, only for Senegal to score twice in 10 minutes to grab the draw, and eventually, the series win en route to its first World Cup in 16 years.

Madagascar fared no better during qualifying for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations as it failed to win in any of the six qualifiers. The notable result of that campaign was a 6-1 home loss played on Jun. 5, 2016, in the northwestern city Mahajanga. Just three months earlier, 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 started another qualification campaign with a new head coach. Nicholas Dupuis became 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 his club upset Lorient during the Round of 64 of the 2013-14 French Cup.

The draw for the qualification phase of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations took place on Jan. 12, 2017. Madagascar had been the sixth-worst African nation and needed to win a two-legged series in a preliminary round to reach the group stage. Madagascar managed to win 4-2 on aggregate against Sao Tome e Principe. Their reward would be a group stage that involved Sudan, Senegal, and Equatorial Guinea, with its first qualifier on Jun. 9, 2017. Al-Ubayyid, Sudan, was the site of Madagascar's 3-1 victory. Madagascar's next match had been slated to occur in March 2018 but occurred six 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 would reach the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations as the remaining Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers occurred on later dates.

Following the news about the tournament's expansion, Madagascar hoped to make history at another tournament. Only a Dani Massunguna for Angola denied Madagascar a chance at debuting at the 2018 African Nations Championship. Madagascar still achieved another milestone with a performance in South Africa at the 2018 COSAFA Cup. En route to a fourth-place finish, Madagascar knocked the hosts out in the quarterfinals via a penalty shootout, Tobiosa Njakanirina scoring the decisive penalty kick at 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.

Crowds attempted to enter the only entrance to Madagascar's national stadium, 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 road victory in Bata. Andriatisma's goal proved decisive against Equatorial Guinea. On Oct. 16, 2018, Madagascar faced Equatorial Guinea again as the home match occurred at Vontovorona Stadium. His last goals came during a two-legged series against Mozambique during qualifying for the 2018 African Nations Championship. 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 had to begin in the preliminary round, was the first nation to qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. Not bad for a country that has previously failed to qualify, withdrawn from qualifying, banned from participating or not entered qualifying phases 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 played in Vontovorona Stadium against Equatorial Guinea and Sudan as punishment for a stampede during a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Senegal.

Beginning a Journey Unlike any Other

Despite losing the remaining two qualifiers, Madagascar was in their first Africa Cup of Nations. When the draw took place on Apr. 12, 2019, Madagascar learned who it would face: Guinea, Burundi, and Nigeria. In preparation for the tournament, Madagascar struggled in its three games. That included a match on Jun. 2, 2019 in Luxembourg. Despite trailing after only two minutes, Madagascar came back with goals from Voavy, Andriatsima, and Andriamatsinoro to lead 3-1. However, two injury-time goals from the hosts saw the match finish 3-3.

Madagascar's roster featured players from various clubs abroad. Voavy, Madagascar's most capped player, plays his club football in Egypt with El Makkasa. Many of the players participate in France, including Andriatsima (Claremont Foot in France's Ligue 2). Romain Métanire, who debuted in the 2-2 draw with Senegal back in September 2018, was the tournament's only player from Major League Soccer (FC Minnesota United).

Madagascar opened its campaign against Guinea, a nation it met during qualifying for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. In that first meeting on Mar. 27, 2011, Yvan Rajoarimanana scored his first-ever goal. Madagascar was unable to hold onto the lead and drew 1-1 at home before losing 4-1 in the other match. 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.

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 François Kamano scored the ensuing penalty into the bottom right corner as the match finished 2-2.

Before the tournament, Madagascar's match with Burundi was one that would likely decide third place in the group. With the game scoreless until 16 minutes from time, another unlikely source provided history. A member of Belgium's Sporting Charleroi, Marco Ilaimaharitr, 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 still had to achieve a result against one of Africa's heavyweights.

One of Africa's Shocking Upsets

Dreamland at Alexandra as a Return Looms?

Same as Guinea, Madagascar faced Nigeria during the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiying (as well as that for the 2002 edition). However, Madagascar never scored against Nigeria. A win was imperative for Madagascar, as second place in its group meant having to face the defending champions Cameroon, eventually.

Madagascar got 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 scored on Nov. 17, 2007, against Comoros, to pounce on the opportunity to score. Early in the second half, Madagascar had a free kick after a foul from Nigeria's Wilfred Ndidi. This time it would be Andriamahitsinoro that scored on a 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 Madagascar would stay in Alexandra to play its Round of 16 match against DR Congo. This match would be the teams' first meeting since Madagascar's embarrassing 6-1 loss back in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. Madagascar lasted defeated DR Congo 19 years ago, but it would take only nine minutes for Madagascar to open the scoring when Ibrahim Amada launched a 20-yard strike. 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 went into 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 had reached the quarterfinals of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Having started in the preliminary round, Madagascar hoped to become the first debutante to reach the Africa Cup of Nations semifinals in 23 years. Against Tunisia, Madagascar held its opponents 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 play in a major tournament. The nation's success was the story of a competition that needed interest. Madagascar exceeded expectations in what was a real-life action-adventure that lifted a nation and set a standard for future tournaments. In November 2019, Madagascar commenced its chance at a second straight Africa Cup of Nations with two opening qualifying victories, including its most recent road triumph in Niamey - a 6-2 thumping against Niger coming three days after winning 1-0 at home against Ethiopia. With its next qualifiers for this tournament not until August 2020, only time will tell if Madagascar's sequel will be as memorable as its debut.

That Magical Summer in Egypt

© 2019 Antonio Martinez


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