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Madagascar boost with a little “foreign” help

This is one of the most exciting stories the 2019 African Cup of Nations is offering: The national team of Madagascar, a absolute football Cinderella, at their first presence in a final phase of the tournament not only managed to join a difficult group (including powerhouse Nigeria, experienced Guinea and Burundi) but to win it! This is more than a boost for a team, which used to struggle at the qualifying phases and seldom celebrated a win or a draw against heavy opposition.

What happened? There’s always a good reason for this transformation. Madagascar is making an impact at Egyptian soil, but only four years ago (2015) they’ve reached the bottom fourth place at the Indian Ocean Games, a regional tournament, where they competed against minnows such as (still French overseas territories) Reunion, Mayotte and Mauritius.

The explanation has a name: Nicolas Dupuis. The 51-year-old French coach has been appointed as manager of the Barea (a nickname derived by a species of Zebu, which is encountered only in Madagascar) in 2017 and managed to push the team forward. His success secret has little to do with tactics, but a lot with persons: Madagascar is staffed with players who’re earning their livelihood mainly in France’s minor football divisions.

Dupuis could be considered an expert to this area. Being a coach of AS Yzeure (a French club currently competing in National 2, the fourth tier of French football) from 1996 to 2017, he has bumped into a lot of players with Malagasy ancestry. By the time he accepted the job as Madagascar manager, he was sure he could persuade some of them to remember their country of origin and represent her at international competitions (as they had no chance to do so with the French national team).

Among these players are goalkeeper Ibrahima Dabo, born in Creteil (and eligible to represent Senegal through his father), defenders Jerome Mombry (born in St. Brieux), Romain Metanire (born in Metz) and no other than Jeremy Morel (born in Lorient and currently playing with Olympique Lyonnais in Ligue 1). Midfielder Marco Ilaimaharitra was born in Mulhouse and Dimitry Caloin in Limoges.

Apart from this help from the motherland, Madagascar is getting also some extra troops from the neighbors. Three players from the 23-man roster chosen for the competition, goalkeeper Melvin Adrien, defender Thomas Fontaine and striker William Gros, were born in nearby island of Reunion, a French overseas territory with a football federation recognized by CAF (the African football governing body) only for regional competitions, and not by FIFA. Accepting that Reunion could never qualify for a World Cup (and not good enough to represent France internationally), an increasing number of talented players from Reunion are taking their football steps to nearby Madagascar, so they can be eligible to follow their dream.

The 2019 African Cup of Nations is the first step for emerging Madagascar. As the expanding 2026 FIFA World Cup would have nearly double spots for African teams (9 from 5 today), there are many chances of reaching a finals phase for the first time in their football history, even with a little help from abroad…

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