Underdogs of Madagascar ready to make history
Cairo - Before the Africa Cup of Nations 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 tonight in the last quarterfinal.
While France-born coach Nicolas Dupuis insists "the team is the star", midfielder Andrianantenaina and forward Andriamahitsinoro have caught the eye.
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Bulgaria-based Andrianantenaina was among the 11 footballers chosen by a Confederation of African Football (CAF) 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 that the team is the star and, sometimes, an individual will stand out when we need him to. That is our strength," said Andriamahitsinoro.
He stands out on the field; he has blond-dyed hair and is tall in a squad of mostly medium-height players.
Tunisia coach Alain Giresse said his first target of a last-eight place has been achieved.
"We are capable of lifting the trophy 15 years after doing so for the first time," he said. Algeria face the Ivory Coast in a clash of former champions before Madagascar meet 2004 winners Tunisia.
Madagascar and Tunisia have met competitively only twice with Tunisia winning
1-0 at home and 2-0 away in 2002 World Cup qualifiers.
Should Madagascar eliminate experienced Tunisia, they will become the first Cup of Nations debutants since South Africa in 1996 to reach the semifinals.
When Algeria and Ivory Coast last met in a 2015 quarterfinal, the Ivorians won 3-1 with Serey Die part of the winning team; the losing line-up included Riyad Mahrez. - AFP
Ivory Coast v Algeria, 6pm; Madagascar v Tunisia, 9pm.