Cairo — A spellbinding run in the tournament by debutants Madagascar and the revival of South Africa at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) have sparked life into what had otherwise been a nightmarish competition for the Southern African region.
They are through to the quarterfinals.
Madagascar have captivated the football world, with their fairytale campaign continuing on Sunday with a 4-2 penalty-shoot triumph against star-studded Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The teams were tied 2-2 after extra time.
Bafana Bafana appeared to be heading for the exit ahead of their Last 16 match against hosts and seven-time record holders Egypt but breathed life into their nail biting campaign with a stunning last-gasp victory over the more fancied Pharaohs.
Prior to Madagascar's run and Bafana Bafana's heroics, Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional teams had been touted as punching bags in the competition and it largely went according to the script with five teams from the regional bloc- Angola, DRC, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe-now out of the event.
South Africa and Madagascar fans that travelled to Egypt for the tournament are ecstatic.
"A day before Bafana Bafana played Egypt, I thought were already dead and buried," Enzokuhle Zulu told CAJ News Egypt Bureau.
He attributed Bafana Bafana's change of fortunes to the introduction of Footballer of the Season, Thembinkosi Lorch of Orlando Pirates.
Coach Stuart Baxter yielded to pressure from media and millions back home for overlooking the player.
The Orlando Pirates talisman repaid his starting berth with a fine goal and a Man-of-the-Match accolade.
"The move paid results as Lorch gave us the desperately needed victory," Zulu said.
Compatriot, Tintswalo Hanyani, believes Bafana Bafana and Barea of Madagascar can continue their exploits.
"I'm happy that the southern African regional bloc still has two teams to raise our hopes," Hanyani said.
Madagascan fan, Tobisoa Raherinaivo, believes the two countries can redeem Southern Africa's tattered image at the AFCON's 62-year history.
"I strongly believe Madagascar and South Africa will reach semi-finals, at least, if not final. This will be good news to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region," Raherinaivo said.
He welcomed the presence of Madagascar President, Andry Rajoelina, at the Alexandria Stadium to boost morale for the Barea.
"President Rajoelina punched the air each time Madagascar scored. The victory over DRC is partly attributable to him. He motivated our boys," Raherinaivo told CAJ News.
The quarterfinals pit South Africa against nemesis Nigeria on Wednesday. Madagascar will play the winner between Ghana and Tunisia.