ALEXANDRIA, Egypt, July 1 (Reuters) – Rookies Madagascar are under no illusions that they remain underdogs at the Africa Cup of Nations, even after their shock win over Nigeria on Sunday that ensured top place in Group B and progress to the knockout stage.
The 2-0 victory in Alexandria was one of the great shocks in the tournament’s history as Madagascar, playing in their first final, ended with seven points.
But coach Nicolas Dupuis, who combines the job of being Madagascar boss together with running the French fourth tier club Fleury 91, said the team remained ‘Petit Poucet’, the fairytale thumbling who gets the better of a monster.
“We remain Petit Poucet and to say that we are Petit Poucet helps us a lot,” Frenchman Dupuis told reporters.
“Humility and confidence is what has got us here and now we’ll try to go as far as we possibly can.”
Madagascar will next meet one of the best third placed teams – to be decided on Tuesday – in the last 16, staying in Alexandria for the weekend clash.
After opening the campaign with a come-from-behind 2-2 draw against Guinea, they then scored a late freekick to edge Burundi before Sunday’s victory, where Lalaina Nomenjanahary took advantage of sloppy defending to open the scoring in the 13th minute and Carolus Andriamahitsinoro netted the second eight minutes into the second half, courtesy of a deflection off his freekick.
“It was a real feat that we managed to qualify for the finals. Then we came here and won a game and now we’re going to the round of 16,” added Dupuis.
“I have to thank the players who made me proud and the people of Madagascar proud. It’s a real achievement for us.”
Celebrations had been muted, he added, because of the toll of three games in a week had begun to tell.
“We’ve played the same players and that’s going to be a major problem now. We’re going to have 10 of them resting at training,” he said.
“Another problem is that Marco Ilaimaharitra was booked again and won’t be able to play in the next match because he is suspended. “I really wanted to make the Madagascar people dream and we did but it came at a bit of a cost with all the effort we put in.” (Reporting By Mark Gleeson; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)