Alexandria (Egypt) – Africa Cup of Nations newcomers Madagascar pulled off a stunning upset of Nigeria on Sunday with a 2-0 win over the three-time former champions to clinch a place in the last 16.
Lalaina Nomenjanahary gave Madagascar a shock 12th-minute lead in Alexandria after pouncing on ponderous defending, jolting a side ranked 63 places above them in the world.
Charles Andriamatsinoro sealed the victory in front of CAF president and Madagascar native Ahmad Ahmad with a heavily deflected free-kick on 53 minutes for his second goal in three games in Egypt.
The Indian Ocean islanders had to come through a preliminary round just to reach the qualifying competition but will advance as winners of Group B ahead of Nigeria, with Guinea hoping to progress as one of four best third-place finishers following a 2-0 win over Burundi in Cairo.
“I have to thank the players who made me proud and the people of Madagascar proud,” said coach Nicolas Dupuis. “It’s a real achievement for us.”
He added: “I really wanted to make the people of Madagascar dream and we did but it came at a bit of a cost with all the effort we put in.”
Defeat for Nigeria likely sets up an eye-catching clash with either holders Cameroon or four-time winners Ghana in the next round, while Madagascar will take on a team that finishes third from either Group A, C or D.
“What happened was Madagascar were the better team today,” said Nigeria boss Gernot Rohr. “We started with a gift. We didn’t want to make a gift but this first goal was a wonderful gift for Madagascar and then we couldn’t find solutions.
“It’s not a shame to lose a match against such a team.”
Having already qualified after back-to-back 1-0 victories, Rohr made five changes to the side that overcame Guinea in their second game. Samuel Kalu was handed his first start of the tournament following last week’s collapse in training due to severe hydration.
– Rotated Nigeria subdued –
Yet after a comfortable start Nigeria gifted their opponents a goal completely against the run of play when a poor pass from John Ogu put Leon Balogun in trouble, with Nomenjanahary pinching the ball on the edge of the area and coolly dancing round Ikechukwu Ezenwa to slot home.
Kalu bent a shot wide of the far post in response for Nigeria, whose penalty appeals were ignored when Ahmed Musa tumbled to the ground after trying to skip past goalkeeper Melvin Adrien on the half-hour.
Frenchman Dupuis, who also coaches at a lower-league club in his homeland, has worked wonders with a Madagascar side that qualified for a first Cup of Nations by finishing above Equatorial Guinea and Sudan.
They doubled their lead early in the second half here when Andriamatsinoro’s set-piece flicked off substitute Wilfred Ndidi and left Ezenwa stranded as the ball sailed into the net.
Ndidi belatedly registered Nigeria’s first shot on target just before the hour with a curling effort straight at Adrien, although Anicet Andrianantenaina nearly bagged a third as Ezenwa smothered on the line after an inviting Andriamatsinoro cross.
While Madagascar became the first debutants to advance beyond the group stage since Cape Verde in 2013, they will be without midfielder Marco Ilaimaharitra for their next game after he collected a late yellow card, his second in three matches.
In contrast, fellow newcomers Burundi bowed out without a single goal or point after a 2-0 loss to Guinea.
Burundi’s hopes suffered a huge blow when Christophe Nduwarugira was sent off on 12 minutes in the capital after a foul as last man, and Mohamed Yattara stepped up for Guinea with both goals to leave them facing a nervous wait for a spot in the last 16.