2019 AFCON: Can Tunisia put an end to Madagascar’s fairytale?

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When Madagascar and Tunisia file out on Thursday in their quarter-final fixture, it will be more than a hunt for a place in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) semi-finals.

The clash at the Al-Salam Stadium in Cairo is a battle between a tournament greenhorn and an experienced side.

However, Madagascar has proven that an inexperienced side cannot be always considered a minnow in the game of football.

Making a debut at Egypt 2019 and ranked 108th by FIFA, the islanders rose to an unprecedented echelon after seeing off tournament giants Nigeria to top Group B.

But the Barea have gone further with a victory against two-times winners DR Congo in the Round of 16.

And this has placed them as the first team to stay unbeaten in their first four games in AFCON since Libya 1982.

The side coached by Nicholas Dupuis can still add more stories to their history books, going by AFCON folklore.

But doing this means they first need to surmount the Carthage Eagles hurdle, a side who are the second top-ranked CAF team in FIFA in 25th place.

They have 19 AFCON appearances and clinched the trophy in 2004, and it is safe indeed to say the North African side are one of the favourites for the title.

With the elimination of possible threats in Cameroon, Ghana, Egypt and Morocco, Tunisia should now firmly be in the running for the title.

But their run so far has proved otherwise, and it is not encouraging enough for anyone to place a bet on them.

The North Africans ended the group stage with three points from three games and needed a penalty kicks shootout to overcome Ghana in the Round of 16.

Tunisia’s display of prowess in club continental competitions has not manifested in their AFCON form and successes, compared to Egypt or Algeria.

They will therefore need more to silence a very determined Madagascar, who have shown that experience and name may not count for something.

Team captain Youssef Msakni is however one player Madagascar will need to do a lot to tame due to his attacking prowess.

The Belgium-based attacking midfielder who missed out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup will want to prove a point.

He scored the Carthage Eagles’ first goal of the tournament in their Group E opener against Angola, and it made him the first Tunisian to score in four different AFCON editions.

Another player capable of silencing the debutants is dead-ball specialist Wahbi Khazri, the Saint-Etienne striker who scored the crucial equaliser against Mali in the group stage.

With Egypt’s ouster from the tournament, fans of the hosts will likely shift support to their North African brothers, especially as Ferjani Sassi of Zamalek SC of Egypt made the
squad.

The midfielder sat out the three group games because he has a slight knock, according to Tunisia coach Alan Giresse.

Having returned in the game against Ghana, Sassi may also be included in line-up against Madagascar.

On the other hand, and based on midfielder Anicet Andrianantenaina’s comments, team work has accounted for their unexpected run of results and it may now count for Madagascar.

“Our secret is team work. We play as a team and we fight for each other. There is no star in the team and everyone is equal,’’ the scorer of their maiden AFCON goal against Guinea told cafonline.com.

Midfielder Lalaina Nomenjanahary who plays for Paris FC in France brings experience to the table for the newcomers.

The 33-year-old has started each of Madagascar’s matches at the tournament and scored the opener against Nigeria.

He has the ability and know-how to create problems in wide areas and the Tunisians need to be wary of him.

Also, Charles Andriamahitsinoro who has been involved in three of Madagascar’s five goals (two goals and one assist) can cause turbulence in the defence of any opponent.

With quite a decent form, the newcomers have held their heads high and can even be contenders for the title following the elimination of the top guns.

With Madagascar’s president Andy Rajoelina and CAF president Ahmad Ahmad likely to be watching from the stands, the Barea will play their hearts out.

But the question will then be whether such a contribution will be enough for a possible victory against the experienced Tunisia.

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