Madagascar might be known more for a trilogy of animated films than football, but the script will continue to change if another famous victory is secured at the Africa Cup of Nations on Sunday.
The tournament newcomers are set to make their knockout rounds debut in a surprise last-16 date with Democratic Republic of Congo in Alexandria, Egypt.
It has the potential to be another milestone moment amid a dream sequence for Madagascar, who drew with Guinea, beat Burundi and then stunned Nigeria 2-0 to advance as Group B winners.
Anicet Andrianantenaina, scorer of his nation’s maiden AFCON goal two weeks ago, put the unexpected run of results into perspective.
“No one knows about us, maybe only [from] the movie Madagascar,” the Ludogorets player told CAF Online.
“Our secret is the team work. We play as a team and we fight for each other. There is no star in the team and everyone is equal.”
Andrianantenaina will have to shoulder greater responsibility with fellow midfielder Marco Ilaimaharitra out through suspension.
Their opponents, DR Congo, are ahead by 59 places in the FIFA rankings but only scraped through Group A in third place, courtesy of a victory over Zimbabwe.
Though momentum is with his team, Belgium-based Ilaimaharitra admits any further progress is a bonus.
“I would be lying if I said we will be here up to the final,” he said.
“But all I can say is that we will do our best in every game. We will do our best to win and see how far we can go.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Madagascar – Lalaina Nomenjanahary
Experience is required to guide Madagascar through uncharted territory and winger Nomenjanahary is rich with exactly that quality. The 33-year-old former Lens man has started each of Madagascar’s matches at the tournament and netted the opener against Nigeria. Now at Ligue 2 outfit Paris FC, he has the ability and knowhow to create problems in wide areas.
DR Congo – Marcel Tisserand
Enviable firepower in attack will not be enough for DR Congo if their back four wilts under the pressure of a do-or-die contest. That places particular focus on centre-back Tisserand, who is yet to miss a minute of the tournament. A player with Ligue 1 and Bundesliga experience should be confident enough to commandeer a defence that shipped four goals in the opening two games.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Madagascar (W2 D1) could become the first team to go unbeaten in their first four Africa Cup of Nations matches since Libya in 1982 (5 – W2 D3).
– DR Congo have won four of their past 10 games at the Africa Cup of Nations (D2 L4), after winning two of the previous 22 (D11 L9).
– Charles Andriamahitsinoro has been involved in three of Madagascar’s five goals (2 goals, 1 assist).
– Four of DR Congo’s last six goals at the Africa Cup of Nations have been scored from set pieces situations