Football Features

Five things we learned as Madagascar’s Afcon dream goes on against DR Congo

By CJ Smith

Published: 19:52, 7 July 2019

Madagascar’s remarkable Afcon 2019 run continued with a 4-2 penalty shootout win over DR Congo on Sunday.

The two sides had played out a thoroughly entertaining 2-2 draw in normal time and couldn’t be separated in the extra 30 minutes.

However, Everton flop Yannick Bolasie missed the decisive spot-kick, meaning Madagascar continue to make history in Egypt.

But what did we learn from the match?

1. Thunderbolt

Madagascar have defied all logic and expectation at Afcon 2019, so it seemed about right that they would open the scoring against DR Congo in a completely stunning, mind-boggling way.

After just 11 minutes – with both sides still trying to get a foothold in the game – the ball rolled in front of the Congolese box, about 25 yards out. Seemingly from nowhere, midfielder Ibrahim Amada stepped up and unleashed an absolute rocket into the far corner with his right foot. 1-0 to Madagascar and another shock seemingly on the cards.

The goal was impressive enough at first glance but on further inspection, the wicked movement and pace to send it inside the far corner was quite incredible, especially as Amada seemed to wedge the ball with the inside of his foot, David Luiz style.

2. Another Golden Boot challenger crashes out

With Mohamed Salah and Trezeguet crashing out with Egypt, and the likes of Cameroon and Morocco going home, the race for the Afcon 2019 Golden Boot is absolutely wide open.

Ahead of play on Sunday, Nigeria’s Odion Ighalo was leading the way with three goals but he has now been joined by DR Congo’s Cedric Bakambu, who headed home in clinical style on the 21st minute to level things up against Madagascar.

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Bakambu’s two goals in the final group game appear to have ignited the former Villarreal forward’s confidence, with his movement ensuring DR Congo always had a threat on the few occasions where Madagascar’s discipline failed.

Ighalo has been on fire at this tournament so far and Nigeria are looking more and more like the team to beat in Egypt. With DR Congo and Bakambu now crashing out, it could be tough to stop Ighalo claiming the Golden Boot.

3. Escape act backfires

DR Congo may be out now, but they kept hanging on to life at Afcon 2019 until the final moment.

After going down 2-0 to Uganda and Egypt in their opening group games, a 4-0 thrashing of Zimbabwe spared their blushes and sent them through to the knockout rounds with just one win.

And against Madagascar, they twice fell behind, seriously struggling to get to grips with the minnows. It took an imperious header from Chancel Mbemba in second-half stoppage time to keep the Congolese alive and it felt incredibly harsh on the Madagascans.

DR Congo’s superior fitness saw them control much of extra-time but they just couldn’t see off Madagascar and although it took a penalty shoot-out, they finally crashed out with Bolasie the villain, missing the final spot-kick.

4. Madagascar shock again

South Africa’s defeat of Egpyt on Saturday was incredible. Benin sending Morocco out on penalties was unexpected. But still, it all seems to pale in comparison to what Madagascar are doing at Afcon 2019.

The island nation are competing on this stage for the first time in their history and, game after game, they’re going above and beyond everything predicted of them.

Not only did they take the lead early on against DR Congo, they even managed to keep their nerve when Bakambu levelled the scores, offering a menacing threat every time they had the ball.

Faneva Ima Andriatsima’s goal to make it 2-1 in the 77th minute felt totally deserved when it came, while Mbemba’s equaliser felt equally cruel.

The Madagascans needn’t have worried, though, as they once again showed iron resolve to go through with a 4-2 penalty shootout win, converting each of their spot-kicks in emphatic fashion.

5. History makers

Madagascar had Nigeria and Guinea in their group. They weren’t supposed to get past them. Hell, they probably weren’t even meant to finish above Burundi, who have Saido Berahino up front.

Yet, here they are, unbeaten, into the quarter-finals. What is going on?!

To put this into context, Madagascar are the first Afcon debutants to remain unbeaten in their first four games since Libya, all the way back in 1982. The Libyans actually hosted that particular edition, making things slightly easier for them, while some of the superpowers of African football hadn’t quite emerged as they have nowadays.

Five years ago, Madagascar were ranked 190th in the world by Fifa. Now, they’re 108th and are writing one of the most romantic stories we’ve seen in modern football. Who knows where it will end?