Johannesburg — CELEBRATIONS following Madagascar's historic qualification for next year's Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) are a befitting end to about half a century of heartache for the Indian Ocean island country.
The 1-0 victory over Equatorial Guinea at the CNAPS Stadium in Vontovoronoa, near the capital Antananarivo sparked frenzy around the soccer-mad but underachieving nation and is the highlight of the latest round of qualifiers for the continent's prime football competition.
Led by Frenchman, Nicola Dupuis, 'Barea' have beaten Sudan, the Equatoguineans (back-to-back) and drawn against Senegal in Group A to achieve the momentous feat.
The outcome of the two remaining matches against Senegal and Sudan will have no influence as Madagascar are destined to finish in the top two of Group A, which guarantees automatic qualification.
This is an end to over 46 years of waiting, with the team first participating in the qualifiers of the 1972 edition of AFCON, coincidentally held in Cameroon.
Madagascar did not enter between the inaugural edition in 1957 and 1970.
After the side could not manage qualifying for 1972, things have been haywire, ranging from repetitive failure to qualify, withdrawing, inability to enter and even disqualification.
Over the years, solace only came via winning the little-known Indian Ocean Island Games but still victory remains a distant memory having come in 1990 and 1993.
Meanwhile, familiar participants Egypt, Senegal and Tunisia have also wrapped up their spots at Cameroon 2019.
They qualified ahead of nonentities Eswatini and Niger in Group J.
Tunisia's Carthage Eagles soared 2-1 away in Niger to preserve their unbeaten run.
The Pharaohs of Egypt reigned supreme over Eswatini with a 2-0 scoreline in Mavuso.
Meanwhile, Uganda and Zimbabwe are in a good position to qualify for Cameroon.
The Warriors of Zimbabwe (eight points) remain ahead in the battle for Group G, ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo (5) after the pair drew 1-1 in Harare.
Congo and Liberia are both on four points. Liberia won 2-1 at home to claim third sport on goal difference.
Uganda' Cranes are flying high in Group L with ten points, five ahead of Tanzania.
Bafana Bafana of South Africa paid a heavy price for complacency following a goalless draw away in Seychelles in Group E.
A 6-0 win against the same opponents three days earlier had the nation buzzing that the glory days were back, only for the mood to hit rock bottom again after a flat performance that the Seychelles celebrated like their victory.
Nigeria's Super Eagles capitalized. They lead the group with nine points after beating Libya 3-2. South Africa are on eight, Libya four and Seychelles one.