Island ecstasy as Madagascans revel in Africa Cup run

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Madagascar’s midfielder Lalaina Nomenjanahary celebrates after scoring a goal during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations match between Madagascar and Nigeria at the Alexandria Stadium. (AFP)
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The Madagascar side that defeated Nigeria at the Alexandria Stadium. (AFP)
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Madagascar’s 51-year-old French coach Nicolas Dupuis. (AFP)
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Fans of ‘Barea’, Madagascar’s national football team, celebrate in the streets of Antananarivo after their team’s 2-0 victory over Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations. (AFP)
Updated 05 July 2019
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Island ecstasy as Madagascans revel in Africa Cup run

  • The side, rated 108th in the world, beat three-time cup winners Nigeria 2-0 and emerged on top of group B at the tournament being hosted by Egypt
  • Madagascar’s 25 million people are caught up in suspense as they await the team’s last-16 match on Sunday against the Democratic Republic of Congo

ANTANANARIVO: It is an island nation united in surprise and excitement — Madagascar is gripped by football fever as the country’s team enjoys an unexpected run at the Africa Cup of Nations.
The side, rated 108th in the world, beat three-time cup winners Nigeria 2-0 and emerged on top of group B at the tournament being hosted by Egypt.
Now Madagascar’s 25 million people are caught up in suspense as they await the team’s last-16 match on Sunday against the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Pierre Rakotoarivony, 50, an amateur youth coach in the Betongolo neighborhood of the capital Antananarivo, said he can feel the excitement building.
“Everyone is now enthusiastic because the team have shown us that defeat is not inevitable and that we can achieve feats with effort and perseverance,” he told AFP standing by a dusty playing field.
“Today, there are no longer some people who are fans of the game, and some who are not — all Madagascans have become supporters.”
Nicknamed “Barea,” after a breed of local cattle, the team were not predicted to even qualify for the tournament, but now they hope to defeat DR Congo for a hallowed place in the quarter-finals.
“Everyone speaks only of Barea now all day,” Rakotoarivony said.
Since the start of the tournament, shops close early and streets in Antananarivo are deserted for every game.
After victories over Burundi and then Nigeria, crowds instantly poured out of houses, blowing whistles, screaming, waving flags, hooting car horns and letting off fireworks.
“We have never known this in the history of our country,” said Donna Andrianirina, an accountant in the capital.
“On Sunday, my morning schedule is to go to church to pray for victory.”
Madagascar has suffered decades of political instability and is one of the poorest nations in the world. But the football has eclipsed many daily worries.
“I strongly congratulate Barea because, beyond football, they have achieved a real goal where politicians, religious and civil society have failed — unifying the people,” said 34-year-old Dia Styvanley.
“I have never watched a football game from start to finish, but now I do not miss a match and stay taped in front of the TV for 90 minutes with my heart beating.”
Players have become instant heartthrobs and the phrase “Alefa Barea” (“Let’s go Barea”) is on everyone’s lips.
“All the girls in my class have fallen in love with the players,” confirms a jealous Harisoa Francois Andriambololoniaina, 19, a player from Betongolo.
“I’m going to make a lot of effort to join Barea.”
National team jerseys — genuine and counterfeit — are selling fast, and money has been pouring into a fund set up before the tournament to help pay for the Africa Cup campaign as the team has often lacked resources.
In line with other world leaders when national sporting success is at hand, President Andry Rajoelina has been quick to embrace the team and the popular mood.
He gave the side a 175,000 euro ($197,000) cheque before they left, and this week chartered a 480-seater plane to take fans to Sunday’s game — though each passenger will have to pay for the adventure.
Ahead of the match, Madagascans had to take in bad news that their star midfielder Marco Ilaimaharitra was suspended after two yellow cards in the group stage.
But that will not stop the island dreaming of success.


Princess becomes first Saudi woman to head sports club

Updated 22 July 2019
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Princess becomes first Saudi woman to head sports club

  • Princess Nourah thanked her hosts for the hospitality and outlined her ambitions for the team’s future

RIYADH: Princess Nourah bint Saad has officially become the first Saudi woman to be president of a sports club. Italian news outlet Corriere Della Sera reported recently that the princess had successfully acquired the Umbrian football club Spoleto.

Speaking at a press conference, the princess thanked her hosts for the hospitality and outlined her ambitions for the team’s future. 

“Football is a family passion, and Italian football is followed all over the world. This is why I chose to invest in Umbria,” she said. 

Princess Nourah chose the team after considering several aspects. “Spoleto is a small, amateur football organization where it is possible to work with the aim of growing and aiming for promotion. But we cannot fail to consider the value and beauty of the city of Spoleto, which is famous throughout the world.” Spoleto is a member of Serie D of the Italian non-professional football association, Lega Nazionale Dilettanti.  The association represents more than 12,000 football players and 400 football teams across Italy and is considered the fourth-ranked league in the country. Under the princess’s presidency, the team aims to ascend to Serie C in the near future, and further in the long term.

Spoleto announced that they have formally registered for the Excellence Umbria 2019/2020 championship and the Regional Junior Championship 2019/2020.

This purchase marks the Saudi royal family’s second venture into sports club ownership. Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad co-owns English Premier League football club Sheffield United.