Madagascar first to qualify, the first time in the history of AFCON
Madagascar achieved unarguably the brightest moment in their footballing life after beating Equatorial Guinea 1-0 on Tuesday, to qualify for next year’s final tournament with two matches to spare.
Njiva Rakotoharimalala scored the only goal on 42 minutes at the encounter held at the CNAPS Stadium in Vontovoronoa, near the capital Antananarivo. The victory saw ‘Barea’ as Madagascar are nicknamed move to 10 points in Group A, four more than Senegal who face Sudan later in Khartoum.
Chants of ‘Arabaina’ which means congratulations in the local Malagasy language was formed on the lips of the vociferous crowd at the stadium, who celebrated the historic moment.
The qualification for the final tournament of the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time since 1957, complete a fairy-tale run by the islanders who remain unbeaten in their campaign. Led by Frenchman, Nicola Dupuis, ‘Barea’ registered wins over Sudan, Equatorial Guinea (back-to-back) and a draw against Senegal to achieve the historic feat. The outcome of the two remaining matches against Senegal and Sudan will have no impact as Madagascar are destined to finish in the top two of Group which guarantees automatic qualification.
Qualification for the AFCON is expected to throw the streets of Antananarivo and other parts in the country into the frenzy, after a similar mood when the Islanders won the Beach Soccer Africa Cup of Nations in 2015 in Seychelles.
The 26-year-old midfielder scored the only goal of the game just before half-time as the Malagasy beat visiting Equatorial Guinea.
The result puts Madagascar on ten points in Group A to guarantee them a place in Cameroon next year.
Senegal will join them in the finals if they can win in Sudan later on Tuesday.
The games were played in the city of Vontovorona after Madagascar were banned from using the Mahamasina Stadium in Antananarivo for “three matches or three months”.
The suspension was imposed by the Confederation of Africa Football following a stampede at the national stadium in September when one person was killed and nearly 40 others were injured.
Madagascar becomes the 40th different nation to qualify for the Nations Cup finals.
There were two drawn matches in Group B as Comoros grabbed a 2-2 against visiting Morocco and Malawi held Cameroon to a goalless draw in Blantyre.
El Fardou Ben Mohamed, who plays for Serbian side Red Star Belgrade, opened the scoring after just eight minutes to give Comoros a shock lead.
The Moroccans then fought back with two second-half goals from Khalid Boutaib and Nordin Amrabaat to take the lead.
The hosts kept battling and Ben Mohamed was on target again in injury time at the end of the match to earn a point for Comoros.
The results mean that Cameroon top the group with eight points, but they have qualified automatically as the Nations Cup hosts leaving just one more place up for grabs from the group.
Morocco lead the way in the race to the finals on seven points, Malawi move to four points and Comoros are on two – with all the teams having played four matches.
The top two teams in each of the 12 qualifying groups will progress to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon
Three teams remain in contention to qualify from Group C after Gabon beat hosts South Sudan 1-0 and Burundi held visiting Mali to a 1-1 draw.
Midfielder Andre Biyogo Poko, who plays in Turkey for Goztepe, won the match for Gabon with a goal five minutes after half-time.
Gabon played without Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after he did not travel with the team to Juba, no official reason has been given for his decision.
The loss means that South Sudan remain without a single point and cannot reach next year’s Nations Cup.
Burundi took the lead in Bujumbura through striker Fiston Abdul Razak before Mamadou Fofana levelled the score for the visitors.
Mali lead the way with eight points just one ahead of Gabon with Burundi third on six points.
Guinea and Ivory Coast remain the favourites to qualify from Group H despite both being held to away draws.
Ivory Coast were held to a goalless draw in Bangui by the Central African Republic while in Kigali it was 1-1 between Rwanda and Guinea.
Guinea took the lead in the first-half by Jose Kante but Jacques Tuyisenge ensured the points were shared with a late equaliser.
The Syli Nationale had to play the second-half without Liverpool’s Naby Keita, who had to be helped from the pitch with an injury.
Wins for both Guinea and Ivory Coast would have taken both teams through to next year’s finals.
The results mean that Guinea top the group with 10 points, Ivory Coast have seven, CAR are on four and Rwanda bottom with a single point.
Egypt secured a 2-0 win over eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) in Group J.
The win came thanks to a headed goal from Ahmed Hegazi after 19 minutes and well-worked team goal that was finished by Marwan Mohsen early in the second half.
The Pharaohs are now on the verge of qualifying for the finals with nine points while eSwatini cannot now qualify.
There are two more qualifying rounds left to play one in November and the final matches will be in March next year.