Africa Cup of Nations: The amazing story of Madagascar

Last updated at 07:06
Madagascar.Getty Images

We have reached the quarter-finals stage of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) and debutants Madagascar are still in the competition.

They beat DR Congo on penalties to reach the last eight of Africa's biggest football competition.

Before the tournament, they were ranked among the six worst teams on the continent and 108th in the world.

Here's everything you need to know about one of the unlikeliest football fairytales of modern times.

It has been a long road
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Madagascar are ranked by Fifa as one of the worst teams in Africa so no one predicted they'd do much damage in the competition.

It has been a long road to the quarter-finals for the tournament debutants.

Five years ago, Madagascar were ranked 190th out of 211 in the Fifa world rankings.

They had to take part in the very first match of this 2019 Nations Cup campaign - in the preliminary round of qualifying, against Sao Tome e Principe in early 2017.

More than two and a half years later, they're in their first ever AFCON quarter final.

A tough group
Madagascar.Getty Images
Madagascar beat one of the tournament favourites, Nigeria, in the group stage of the competition

Madagascar had Nigeria and Guinea in their group. They are ranked as two of Africa's best teams and have established top players.

No one predicted Madagascar to finish above those two sides! Despite all of this, Madagascar topped the group.

To put this in context, Madagascar became the first AFCON debutants to remain unbeaten in their first four games since Libya, all the way back in 1982.

The unknown
Marco Ilaimaharitra.Getty Images
Marco Ilaimaharitra has been one of the breakout stars for Madagascar

You won't find any superstars in the Madagascar team.

The country does not have a professional league and most of the squad play in the French second division, while others are based in Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Algeria and Egypt.

Marco Ilaimaharitra, who plays for Belgian top division club Sporting Charleroi, has been one of the breakout stars of the tournament with some dominating displays in the centre of midfield.

Their manager, Nicolas Dupuis, is also relatively unknown. Before taking over Madagascar, the 51-year-old spent almost two decades in charge of Moulins-Yzeure, a French lower league club, while also working as a teacher.

The road ahead
Andry Rajoelina.Getty Images
Madagascar's president Andry Rajoelina organised for a plane full of fans to go to the game against DR Congo

The country's president, Andry Rajoelina, has been getting increasingly confident that Madagascar can go all the way and win the competition.

He paid for a plane carrying 480 fans from Madagascar to go to the game against DR Congo on Sunday.

Madagascar will play Tunisia on Thursday night for a chance to make it into the semi-finals.

Tunisia - who are the one of the top ranking African sides in the world - have got to this stage without actually winning a match in the competition.

They needed penalties to knock out Ghana.

Two of the pre-tournament favourites are still in the competition - Senegal and Ivory Coast - and will provide stiff competition should Madagascar face them in the latter stages.

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