Minnows No More

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar July 11, 2019 20:55

Minnows No More

By Satish Sekar in Cairo © Satish Sekar (July 11th 2019)

Respect

Michel Platini. Photo: Handout / UEFA

Alain Giresse, once part of a divine French midfield triumvirate that included Jean Tigana and former UEFA President, Michel Platini, is well travelled in African football. Now coaching Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles, Giresse’s charges face the surprise package Madagascar at Cairo’s Al-Salam Stadium.

Largely unconvincing in qualification, the Carthage Eagles, dispatched Ghana on penalties to reach the last 8. Giresse, however, knows that despite the form here, Tunisia will be seen as favourites, and if they treat the plucky Madagassys as minnows, it will be at their peril.

The story of the 32nd Africa Cup of Nations is undoubtedly Madagascar’s fairy-tale progress. Nobody expected that they would not only beat Nigeria’s Super Eagles, but top the group and then shock the Democratic Republic of Congo to reach the quarter-finals too.

But even this is not enough for their best player. Anicet Andrianantenaina, who plays in Europe for Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad has high aims for his team.

Tired Complaints

Those complaining about tired players for Europe’s seasons should spare a thought for Ludogorets and Anicet in particular. AFCON, despite claims to the contrary, was moved to June and July for Europeans’ convenience. It resulted in playing football in hot temperatures, and adding to the workload of African stars. European pre-season matches have already begun. In one case the national league will start before this AFCON ends.

Bulgaria’s domestic season starts in just two days’ time, and they have Champions League qualification matches too. They lost the first leg in Hungary, 2-1 to Ferencváros, yesterday. The second leg is next Wednesday.

Anicet is still closer to the Pyramids than the Ludogorets Arena. He’s had no end of season rest at all, and if they lose tonight he will return to Razgrad with his team preparing for the second round of qualification. If they win, he will be here for the duration of this tournament, but why did he pick a Bulgarian team?

“I play in Bulgaria, because I was in France before and I finish my contract there and now I play in Bulgaria, and where I play, I play every year in Champions League or Europa League for the best club in Bulgaria.

“So, for me, it’s no problem to go there because I play Champions League or Europa League, so, for me, it’s fantastic.”

Belief

While others dismissed Barea as no-hopers, Anicet knew better. The dismissal of his team was their secret weapon. They knew their abilities. They knew what they were capable of. They were ready to shock Africa, to shock the footballing world, and the dismissal of their chances helped them; it just played into their hands.

“It is too much for us, because nobody believe in us at the beginning, and today, I think people start to believe in us,” Anicet said.

“This is football, and Congo was very, very good, and we respect them from long time, because they play very good football, but today we win.

“But this is football, and I’m very, very happy, and now this game is finished and we try to go as far as possible.”

Silencing the Carping

They arrived with some sneering that the tournament was only expanded to 24 teams so the Barea could finally qualify for an AFCON – this is their first, and they aren’t here to make up the numbers.

The lack of respect has been their secret weapon.

“Yes, because what I told you,” Anicet explained, “because nobody believe in us.

“Nobody trust us, but I believe in my players, because Madagascar have very, very good players, but nobody see this, and today we can see that Madagascar win and can go as far as possible and play good.”

He believes that Madagascar can go all the way and win this AFCON. After all, nobody thought Greece could win Euro 2004 did they?

Anicet, who helpfully wears just his first name on his shirt, believes that they have a similar chance. Everyone under-estimated Greece, who had to do it the hard way, beating Portugal twice and France too along the way. Anicet thinks that Madagascar can become Africa’s Greece.

Presidential Decree (of Support)

He also gives credit to the island’s President, Andry Rajoelina, who chartered a plane to bring Madagassy supporters to Egypt. He attended the match, along with the Madagassy President of CAF, Ahmad Ahmad.

“It’s very, very important, because what this President of Republic of Madagascar (Andry Rajoelina) did for us until now is just amazing and fantastic because he helped the people in Madagascar and he’s really behind us,” Anicet said.

“How it’s possible to watch one game and he come back.

“That means he’s just amazing and when we see support from big people like that, what we have to do is give our best and to play for them.

“That is it.”

Well almost.

Anicet appreciates the support received – Madagassys believe and have come to support Barea thanks to President Rajoelina, and Anicet wants him to know how much it means to the team.
I dedicate for him this game, because he did too much things for us,” said the Man of the Match against Congo’s Leopards, Anicet.

“So he deserve to receive this kind of victory.”

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar July 11, 2019 20:55