The last time DR Congo faced Madagascar in an official game, Les Leopards demolished the Barea 8-2 on aggregate in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier. The Congolese won 2-1 at home in the first leg and tripled their effort for the return tie in Antananarivo, winning 6-1.
But three years since their last meeting, DR Congo do not expect such kind of a result when they face off with the Malagasy, this time in an actual Africa Cup of Nations match.
Madagascar are a different outfit now and perhaps, one that can give the Congolese memories of their meeting in 2000 in a World Cup qualifier when the islanders won 3-0 at home.
In their AFCON debut, Madagascar have finished top of a group that had Nigeria and Guinea. They picked up a point against the Guineans who scored a late equalizer from the spot while they beat the Super Eagles 2-0. These results have built belief in the squad as they head into a first ever round of 16 tie.
They are only the second team since Cape Verde in 2013 to progress to the knockout face of the AFCON on their debut.
For DR Congo, they squeezed into the round of 16 only after a final day 4-0 victory over Zimbabwe in Cairo. Identical 2-0 losses against Uganda and hosts Egypt saw Florent Ibenge’s men start their campaign on a sour note but were lucky to be one of the top four best third placed teams.
They might come to Alexandria, 200km away with lessons learnt, but are extremely cautious of a Madagascar side that plays with arrogance of sorts, backed up by a really passionate crowd.
The Malagasy will miss their influential midfielder Marco Ilaimahiritra for the tie as he is suspended following subsequent bookings against Burundi and Nigeria.
Other than that single suspension, both teams have clean bills of health heading into the tie and both Ibenge and Nicolas Dupuis have all the arrows in their quivers. Whose shot will land the devastating knock?
Players to watch:
Carolus Andriamahitsinoro: Easily recognizable with his dyed hair, the striker’s work on the pitch can also not go unnoticed. With two goals so far in the competition, Carolus is one of the most potent Malagasy players going upfront and when he is in the modd, Madagascar dance to his tune.
Paolin Voavy: In Ilaimaharitra’s absence, Voavy will be called upon to step in and noting that he is ‘playing at home’ in Egypt as this is where he plies his club football, his tenacity and pace upfront will be what Madagascar need to break down a shaky DRC defense.
Cedric Bakambu: The China based striker, formerly with Villareal didn’t quite have his tournament going until he announced himself with a brace in the final game against Zimbabwe. He is one of the finest strikers of the continent and one to hugely shoulder DRC’s attacking burden.
Yannick Bolasie: The Everton winger spent his season on loan at Anderlecht after struggling with injury over the last two seasons. Having found his fleet footing in Belgium, the former Crystal Palace man is now looking to translate that form to his national team.
What they said:
Madagascar coach Nicolas Dupuis:
Congo is a good team with good qualities and a lot of experience and are one of the favorites in this tournament. We did well to finish top of the group but we have to remain humble and accept that we are a small team. Without pressure, we are capable of doing good things as a team. We have proved it in the group stages and we don’t have to put pressure on ourselves now.
Madagascar midfielder Anicet Andrianantenaina
We know that this will be a tough game and we are ready for it. We have done well so far but we don’t want to get comfortable. We want to go as far as we can and we have to continue playing with belief. The President of the country coming with many supporters as well is a motivation for us. They will give us that extra urge to work harder. We want to show the world that in Madagascar we can play good football.
DR Congo coach Florent Ibenge
We played against them some years back. We won, but now they have improved and surprised everyone in this tournament. We know it will not be an easy game because they play like a team and this is a dangerous opponent to play against. They have nothing to lose and will come out at us. We should be careful.
Congo skipper Youssouf Mulumbu
We are lucky to be here especially after how we started the tournament. We have learnt our lessons and now we have to take the game very seriously. Madagascar is not an easy team to play against and we need to be disciplined tactically and technically. We are ready as players to give our best on the pitch and get a result.