We all love an underdog and low-ranking Madagascar were the team many neutral fans were rooting for.

The Barea – named after a local hump-backed zebu cow – went on a fairy-tale run, outplaying and beating mighty Nigeria before reaching the quarter-finals in their first Afcon appearance.

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

To qualify for the finals in Egypt, they had to take part in the preliminary round of qualifying, against Sao Tome and Principe in early 2017.

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.

So impressed was President Andry Rajoelina with the team’s performance when they made it to the last 16 that he paid for a plane carrying 480 fans from Madagascar to watch their game against the Democratic Republic of Congo, which they won.

Their impressive run of victories came to an end against Tunisia, but it didn’t lessen their achievement.

President Rajoelina who gave the players the rank of Knight of the Malagasy National Order, one of the highest state commendations, when they returned home. And their current ranking of 108 is set to rocket.

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