Every edition of Afcon produces its own fairy tale, and debutants Madagascar have been a wonderful narrative of the tournament in Egypt.
Perhaps the Indian Ocean islanders’ impressive run came at the right time for their embattled compatriot Ahmad Ahmad.
The CAF president was arrested in France two weeks before the Afcon kick-off over accusations of financial corruption.
But it has been the Barea, as the Malagasy team is known, whose surprise success has been grabbing headlines, and they will be hoping to claim another scalp when they face the Democratic Republic of Congo in Alexandria tonight (6pm).
Madagascar’s 2-0 win over Nigeria in the final game of the group stage prompted the islanders’ President Andry Rajoelina to charter a plane to take fans to Egypt, according to media reports from Madagascar.
This is a team that Bafana Bafana almost met in the Last 16, but the confrontation between the two Cosafa affiliates was nullified by Benin’s goalless draw against Cameroon in Group F. This meant South Africa finished fourth in the final rankings of the best third-placed finishers that sneaked into the knockout round.
Before their fairy tale run in Egypt, Madagascar’s most notable achievement was third place at the 2015 Cosafa Cup, which was held in Rustenburg, North West.
The Barea’s unbeaten run in the group stage helped them top their pool ahead of Nigeria. Cape Verde were the last debutants to qualify for the knockout stages at the Afcon in South Africa in 2013.
Madagascar reached the Egypt finals after finishing second behind Senegal in a group that included 2015 Afcon hosts Equatorial Guinea and Sudan.
And the man who played an influential role during the qualifiers, Carolus Andriamatsinoro, is again leading the attack in Egypt.
The 29-year-old Saudi Arabia-based striker is one of a handful of experienced players on coach Nicolas Dupuis’ roster.
With the French tactician in charge, it also explains why the squad is dominated by players plying their trade in France, albeit from lower division clubs.
“I was happy when I learnt about the groups because we were playing good teams and we had a chance to prove ourselves.
“I am happy that we did,” said Dupuis after their shock win over the Super Eagles last weekend.
After all, Madagascar used to be the whipping boys of the continent, just like most of their fellow islanders affiliated to CAF.
The Barea – which is a nickname derived from a species of local cattle in Madagascar – have another chance tonight to prove that they are no “cows”, a description in township lingo for lousy footballers.
Kaizer Chiefs supporters, on the other hand, are also hoping to see Aro “Dax” Andrianarimanana get a run after the midfielder warmed the bench in all three group matches as an unused substitute.