Madagascar deliver on ambitions

On the continental and global level, Madagascar have never made much of an impact on football, and in keeping with historical precedent, the Barea have tripped up in their quest to reach both the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ and the CAF Africa Cup of Nations Gabon 2017. However, they have been improving rapidly for the past few years and their climb up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking in recent months is an example of the promise under the surface for the island nation.

At the start of the year, Madagascar were ranked 129th in the world and by April they had slid down to 138th. But in the latest rankings the Malagasy have fought their way back up to 108th in the world, a climb of 29 spots and within striking distance of their best-ever ranking of 89th way back in 1993. Madagascar international Ando Manoelantsoa explains to that there are a number of reasons why the team has currently managed to reach their highest ranking since July 2003.

"The players have done a lot of work and the federation has offered us more support than in the past years. The federation also has looked beyond Madagascar-based players and selected players from abroad. Now we can count on having some players competing in Europe, in Algeria and other bigger football nations."

The 25-year-old central midfielder plays his club football for local side Ajesaia in Antananarivo, but his brother, Lalaina Nomenjanahary, is one of those who brings larger experience to the squad. The 30-year-old, who plays either as left back, or occupies a defensive role on the left in midfield, plays his club football for Lens.

Attracting foreign-based players already brought some success last year, as the team progressed to the second round of the CAF qualifying competition for Russia 2018 with a 5-2 aggregate victory against the Central African Republic. Although they were then knocked out in the second round, they managed a morale-boosting result against Senegal as the former World Cup finalists had to come from two goals down to secure a 2-2 draw in Antananarivo. At the time, Les Lions de la Teranga were ranked 37th, compared to the 129th of Madagascar.

In the qualifying competition for the 2017 AFCON Madagascar were unlucky to be drawn into a tough group with Congo DR, Angola and again the Central African Republic. They held the two latter teams to draws at home, and were only felled by singles goals away to the Congolese and CAR, but with just one matchday left they are well off the pace.

Regional success But for Barea supporters the focus is not so much on global and continental competitions, as it is on regional ones. They have twice won the Indian Ocean Island Games and can boast a fourth and third place finish in the more competitive COSAFA Cup, which is played between southern African countries and includes teams like former AFCON winners South Africa and Zambia.

They finished third at last year's COSAFA Cup, beating guests Ghana along the way, and their performance at this year's COSAFA Cup, which is being held in Namibia, was also promising. In the ongoing event, they beat Seychelles in their opening game, held Zimbabwe to a draw to set up a table-topping clash against Swaziland. Unfortunately they were felled by the Swazi's and their in-form striker Felix Badenhorst, whose fifth goal in three contests was the only one in the match.

Despite all of the improvements, Manoelantsoa believes the team can continue on their trajectory upwards. "Everyone has to remain focused," he said. "The Malagasy state should support the football federation. In Madagascar, sport still is not considered very important.

"It should, all the more as we have so many talents in our country. The level of the local league remains very low. There should be efforts to improve that. An emphasis should also be put on training young players. A further major obstacle is the lack of facilities."