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

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.


World number five Medvedev topbills first international tennis tournament in the Kingdom

Updated 51 min 48 sec ago

World number five Medvedev topbills first international tennis tournament in the Kingdom

DUBAI: Some of the greatest men’s players on the planet can use the upcoming $3 million Diriyah Tennis Cup in Saudi Arabia as ideal preparation for the Australia Open, says one of its big-name competitors.

World number five Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, is one of six confirmed names heading to the Diriyah Arena in the UNESCO world heritage site for the first international tennis tournament to be staged in the Kingdom, presented by Saudi Aramco on December 12 to and 14.

It has been a breakthrough year for the fan favorite, reaching six consecutive tournament finals, including one at the 2019 US Open and two at Masters 1000 events with a career high ranking of number 4.

Now Medvedev believes the competitive nature of the Diriyah Tennis Cup can provide an ideal platform to build on that success, especially with the first Grand Slam event of 2020, the Australian Open taking place a little more than a month after the Saudi tournament.

Medvedev said: “Saudi will be a big part of my preparation for the new season. Coming to Saudi the heat and conditions will be similar to Australia. It will be a great test for us.

“It’s in our pre-season so we’ll want to get that match time in to prepare for the new season – but the fans should expect us to fight hard like in any tournament. It will be competitive and hopefully they’ll be lots of fans coming to support us there.

“Hopefully I can play some great tennis, help the country raise awareness of the sport and inspire people to play. Looking at the players confirmed it’s a really great field.

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about Saudi Arabia. I’m excited to promote tennis there especially as it’s the first tournament.

The tournament is part of the Diriyah Season, an epic month of showcase sports events being hosted by the GSA. 

The Diriyah Tennis Cup showdown has confirmed six leading players to date for the inaugural tournament. As well as Medvedev this includes three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland.

World number 12, Fabio Fogini, who was the first Italian to win an ATP Masters 1000 title this year in Monte Carlo and highly-rated David Goffin (Belgium), the former world number 7 will also present in Diriyah.

The big-serving American John Isner, with over 10,000 aces on tour, and five-time ATP champion Lucas Pouille of France, an Australian Open semi-finalist this year complete the current line-up. Officials will name the final two players in the coming weeks.

Medvedev will go into tournament with confidence after a great year, in the past week missed out on closing rounds of the Nitto ATP World Tour Finals which also included another epic showdown with World Number One, Rafael Nadal in London.

He said: “It’s been a great year for me, especially the second half. The highlights were in Washington and then finishing in Shanghai and winning that title. With six titles and two of them Masters titles, it wasn’t something I expected if I’m honest with you.

The 23-year-old Russian also gave some insight into what it has taken to reach the top echelon of the men’s game, as he closes in on ‘The Big Three’; namely Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. 

“To be successful in tennis you need to fight hard and play with passion. You need to fight hard on every single point. Look back on the times it doesn’t go well and always try to improve and always get better. Self-reflection is important. That might sound a bit tough for the kids, but that’s what it takes to break through."

Tickets are now available at www.diriyahseason.sa with nine different ticket categories available to suit all budgets – the perfect event for groups of friends and families.

The Diriyah Tennis Cup is taking place at the 15,000-seater Diriyah Arena being purpose built at the ancient site of the Kingdom’s first capital, known as the home of kings and heroes. The tournament will happen just a week after the same venue plays host to the Clash On The Dunes, the world heavyweight title fight between Andy Ruiz Jr and Anthony Joshua OBE.