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Madagascar proving as tough to handle as their names

AFP CAIRO (AFP-Jiji) — Before the Africa Cup of Nations kicked off in Egypt last month, Madagascar was best known for the tongue-twisting surnames of players such as Anicet Andrianantenaina and Charles Andriamahitsinoro.

Now, 20 days into the biennial tournament, the Indian Ocean islanders have stunned three-time champion Nigeria and is preparing to face Tunisia on Thursday in the last quarterfinal.

While France-born coach Nicolas Dupuis insists “the team is the star,” midfielder Andrianantenaina and forward Andriamahitsinoro have caught the eye.

Bulgaria-based Andrianantenaina was among the 11 players chosen by a Confederation of African Football (CAF) panel as the best in the 36-match group phase.

Andriamahitsinoro, who plays for a Saudi Arabian club, made the substitutes’ list in the group “dream team,” and his two goals have put him in contention for the Golden Boot award.

“The coach is correct to say the team is the star and, sometimes, an individual will stand out when we need him to. That is our strength,” explained Andriamahitsinoro.

He stands out on the field because he has dyed blond hair and is tall in a squad of mostly medium-height players.

Tunisia coach Alain Giresse said his first target of a last-eight place has been achieved, adding: “We are capable of lifting the trophy 15 years after doing so for the first time.”

The countries have met competitively only twice, with Tunisia winning 1-0 at home and 2-0 away in 2002 World Cup qualifying.

Since then, Tunisia hosted and won a Cup of Nations, while Madagascar became so weak that the Democratic Republic of Congo went to Antananarivo three years ago and won a qualifier 6-1.

But while unimpressive Tunisia reached the quarterfinals with four straight draws — a penalty shootout win over Ghana was officially classified as a draw — Madagascar blossomed.

Apart from the 2-0 triumph over African powerhouse Nigeria, the squad defeated fellow debutante Burundi and held Guinea and DR Congo while playing eye-pleasing football.

Should Madagascar eliminate vastly more experienced Tunisia, it will become the first Cup of Nations debutante since South Africa in 1996 to reach the semifinals.Speech

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