Beaten 2-0 away to Equatorial Guinea on Friday, Madagascar now find themselves up against it if they are to progress from the first round of African Zone qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. The Barea must overturn that deficit at Antananarivo on Tuesday, and forward Faed Arsene explained to FIFA.com how much will be at stake when they seek a famous comeback win.
"Our goose isn’t cooked yet, but it's getting warm,” explained the 26-year-old after the first-leg reverse in Malabo, his disappointment not quite dulling his sense of humour. Arsene and his team-mates nonetheless need to seize their chances in the home leg or a talented crop of players ready to burst on to the scene will be bidding an early farewell on the road to Brazil 2014.
“We lost after conceding two penalties, and before that they only had one shot on goal. We paid heavily for our errors in the parts of the pitch that matter most – our area and theirs. It’s a shame because, before the first goal, we controlled the play. Silly mistakes cost us the game and it’s frustrating that we didn’t score at least once.”
Belief remains high in the Madagascar camp, however, and Arsene is hoping his side can find the net early on to put their rivals under pressure from the off. “Everything is possible in football,” explained the former Lens player, who now plies his trade his Royal Mouscron-Peruwelz in Belgium’s third division. “If they can score twice, we can score three times. We’ll have to take an early lead to get a grip on the game and help raise our confidence.”
Although he speaks like a veteran, Arsene is still relatively new at this level, having made his debut against Nigeria at the start of 2012 CAF African Cup of Nations qualifying last year, a match he recalls as “my favourite memory with the national team”. He no doubt learned much from his father Herve, a French title winner with Lens in 1997/98, but the education process has certainly intensified in the past year. “Playing against prestigious African sides and players who play for the big European clubs can only help you improve, but it is also shows you how good you are,” he said.
That goes for Madagascar too, and with the side just 90 minutes away from having their FIFA World Cup dream extinguished, the conclusion so far is not promising. “Compared to other African countries, we have too few players who play in Europe and we’re behind in terms of football development, despite the work put in by the governing bodies,” said Arsene. “It’s such a shame, because there’s lots of talent here. I see new players all the time who just lack the exposure they deserve to give them that little boost they need. The only route to take for the best Madagascan players today is to go to neighbouring islands like Mauritius or Reunion Island. That’s not enough for them to really take off.”
Given that wider context, there will be much more riding on Tuesday’s match than a simple ticket to the second qualifying round. “To not go through and miss out on six more qualifiers would be a huge disappointment because we need that to progress, move up a level and help football development on the island,” continued the striker, who has also enjoyed spells with Dunkerque and Olympic Charleroi.
“Our new coach [Franck Rajaonarisamba] has made sure to remind us of the importance of this game. If we lose, apart from a home-and-away qualifying tie for the next African Cup of Nations, we won’t have a competitive game for a few years. That would make things very difficult in terms of laying foundations. You can always hope to learn lessons, but that won’t be worth much if we don’t have competitive matches in which to apply them.”
The Barea must therefore turn the tables on Equatorial Guinea if they are avoid a spell in the wilderness. That will mean beating their visitors by more than two goals, and the players are hoping for raucous support from their fans to spur them on. “The scoreline isn’t in our favour, but I’d really like the stadium to be full,” said Arsene. “It was packed for the African Cup of Nations qualifiers, but the supporters may be feeling disappointed. Without them, though, the task will be even more difficult.”