Madagascar win qualifies them for their first AFCON finals

October 17 – Madagascar have qualified for their maiden African Cup of Nations finals after defeating Equatorial Guinea 1-0 in Vontovorona. They will be joined in Group A by Senegal and north African powerhouses Egypt and Tunisia for the 2019 finals.

In 1957 the African Cup of Nations was staged for the first time with just three participants:  Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Since then Madagascar, ranked 106th on the FIFA ranking, have never participated in Africa’s flagship competition. They have failed to qualify in 18 attempts, but on Tuesday they became the first nation to secure their spot for next year’s tournament.

Thailand-based midfielder Njiva Rakotoharimalala netted the only goal of the game. The three points saw Madagascar move to ten points with two matches left to play in Group A. Senegal joined Madagascar in booking a ticket for the finals as substitute Sidi Sarr, who plies his trade at Lorient in France, scored in the 86th minute in Khartoum to ensure victory against Sudan.

Madagascar were forced to play their game against Equatorial Guinea in Vontovorona, away from Antananarivo after they were banned by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) from using the Mahamasina Stadium in the capital. Africa’s governing body imposed the ban following a stampede in September, which left one person dead and almost 40 injured.

The qualification will be a boost for CAF president Ahmad, who hails from Madagascar. Under his presidency the African Cup of Nations tournament was expanded from 16 to 24 teams, following a similar move by UEFA in Europe.  Euro 2016, however, was not hailed as a success from a sporting point of view and similar concerns have been voiced over next year’s tournament in Cameroon.

The new format of the tournament also poses a challenge for the hosts as Ahmad has repeatedly cast doubts over Cameroon’s capacity of staging a 24-team finals.

Madagascar became the 40th different nation to qualify for the Nations Cup. In Group J Egypt and Tunisia sealed their spots at the expense of both Swaziland  and Niger. The Egyptians, without the injured Mo Salah, defeated Swaziland with goals by Marwan Mohsen and Ahmed Hegazi. Tunisia maintained their perfect record in the group with a 2-1 win in Niamey.

Contact the writer of this story Samindra Kunti at moc.l1558652136labto1558652136ofdlr1558652136owedi1558652136sni@o1558652136fni1558652136