JOHANNESBURG: Madagascar, the surprise team of the last Africa Cup of Nations, kicked off their 2021 qualifying campaign with a 1-0 win over Ethiopia on Saturday through a Rayan Raveloson goal.
The 22-year-old midfielder from French second-tier side Troyes netted on 19 minutes in Antananarivo for the hosts, who are ranked 95th in the world, 56 places above their rivals.
It was a tentative start in Group K by the Malagasys with French coach Nicolas Dupuis admitting it will be hard to match the achievements of earlier this year in Egypt.
The Indian Ocean island nation stunned three-time African champions Nigeria, then upset the Democratic Republic of Congo before losing to Tunisia in the quarter-finals.
“We need to build on the work that has been done to show that hard work pays off,” stressed the 51-year-old, who also coaches a French lower league club.
“Otherwise, our achievements in Egypt could become a one-off,” said the coach who was rewarded for his efforts in Egypt with a new four-year contract.
Ivory Coast host Niger in Abidjan later Saturday in the other Group K matchday one fixture.
Meanwhile, a poor start by Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic as coach of Morocco continued when lower ranked Mauritania forced a 0-0 Africa Cup of Nations matchday one qualifying draw in Rabat.
Morocco are ranked 42nd in the world, 63 places above Mauritania, and the barren deadlock left Halilhodzic with only one win from five matches since succeeding Herve Renard three months ago.
In warmup matches at home for the Cup of Nations, the Atlas Lions beat Niger, were held by Burkina Faso and Libya and lost to Gabon.
Frenchman Renard twice failed to bring the Cup of Nations trophy to Morocco, whose lone success in the premier African national team competition came 43 years ago in Ethiopia.