Madagascar qualify for maiden Africa Cup of Nations

Author: AFP
Njiva Rakotoharimalala's goal ensured that Madagascar will be represented on the biggest stage of African football

Madagascar won a place at the Africa Cup of Nations tournament for the first time when they triumphed 1-0 at home against Equatorial Guinea in Group A in Antananarivo, Madagascar, on Tuesday.

Thailand-based midfielder Njiva Rakotoharimalala scored the only goal four minutes before halftime.

Victory lifted the 'Barea' (prized cattle) to 10 points from four games and beyond the reach of Equatorial Guinea and Sudan in a four-team mini-league from which the top two qualify.

It was the second 1-0 victory for the Malagasy over the Equatoguineans within four days after captain Faneva Ima Andriatsima scored the winner in West Africa last Saturday,

Madagascar are the first country apart from hosts Cameroun to secure a place at the biennial African football showcase, with the 2019 edition set for June 15 to July 13.

They qualified despite having to play a preliminary tie, won 4-2 on aggregate against Sao Tome e Principe, and being seeded fourth behind Senegal, Equatorial Guinea and Sudan.

Qualification for the Malagasy came after 18 failed attempts since 1970, with French coach Nicolas Dupuis drawing players from Europe, Asia and Africa.

The standard starting side includes four footballers based in France, one each in Algeria, Belgium, Egypt, Reunion, Saudi Arabia and Thailand, and one local.

Previously unknown in Africa, Dupuis took charge in March 2017 and has transformed Madagascar from traditional whipping boys to a team that held Senegal last month.