‘Madagascar can pull off the impossible’
As football has developed in recent years, a growing number of coaches have focused on creating a solid defensive base before moving on to their attack. In this context, the defensive midfielder – the player who marshals the zone in front of his side’s rearguard – has assumed ever greater importance in team tactics. Some coaches are particular devotees, such as Zinedine Zidane, whose current Real Madrid side obtain much of their midfield robustness through the Brazilian Casemiro.
Anyone familiar with the Madagascar national team knows that midfielder Ibrahim Amada was the key link between defence and attack during his side’s brilliant performance at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations Egypt 2019. His major contribution to the side’s defensive duties was also remarkable. A few years ago, however, Amada was not a defensive midfielder, but rather a forward most often deployed in a playmaking role.
“When I arrived in Algeria I was used as a playmaker, usually on the right but sometimes even on the left, and also as a centre-forward,” Amada said of his early years as a professional before the Algerian coach Boualem Charef changed his playing position. “After three or four training sessions with USM El Harrach, the then coach Boulalem Charef decided to use me in a defensive-midfield role.
“I was opposed to this in the beginning because I didn’t want to be a defender. But Charef told me that in the new position, I’d have a better view of the game and my performance would improve, as I could still move the ball forward and go on the attack. He convinced me.
“As time passed, I came to like the new role. I also found I had a better chance of receiving the ball. Now I prefer to play as a defensive midfielder than a centre-forward or a playmaker. In this new position, it’s easier for me to see how the game is evolving and to pick out my team-mates with my passes. It helped me reach my full potential on the pitch, which has had a positive effect on my career.”
In their first AFCON participation in 2019, Madagascar were unquestionably one of the dark horses. Yet they surprised everyone by reaching the quarter-finals, beating Nigeria 2-0 in the group stage and eliminating Congo DR on penalties in the Round of 16.
“We’d been dreaming of participating in the AFCON since our childhood, and that materialised at the age of 27 or 28,” said Amada. “What we experienced in Egypt was indeed indescribable. Qualifying for the competition for the first time in our history was already a great achievement, let alone our stunning run to the quarter-finals.
“We were extremely happy. With limited resources, the people of Madagascar have a tough life. But we managed to bring some joy into their lives during the month of the tournament.
“For our people, the event was more than just a football competition. We helped reunite our people. For me, participating in the AFCON and progressing to the quarter-finals is still the finest memory of my career, and I’m sure it will remain engraved in the collective memories of the Malagasy people.”
Amada and his team-mates have now turned their focus to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifiers. Participation in a World Cup is, of course, the dream for every player and team.
“We want to carry that momentum into the World Cup qualifiers,” said Amada. “But we must take it one step at a time and not rush things. Not many people were watching us or knew our playing style before the AFCON, but now everyone is paying attention to us and knows exactly how we play. As a result, they will prepare well to face us.
“Naturally, not everyone will qualify for the World Cup, but we’ll do everything we can to improve our chances of qualifying. It would certainly be great to take part.”
For these qualifiers, Les Barea are in Group J alongside Benin, Congo DR, and Tanzania.
“In Africa there are no small or big teams,” Amada said. “Congo DR will be lying in wait for us, as we eliminated them in the Round of 16 at the AFCON. I don’t think they’ll have forgotten that so soon. Tanzania performed strongly in the AFCON qualifications, and Benin are very well known. I believe we all have an equal chance and that any of us could top the group. But let’s not get into permutations: the teams that perform best on matchdays will qualify.
“Our goal is to pull off the impossible and qualify, but we must focus on one game at a time. Our strength lies in our team spirit. It would be great to participate in the World Cup. Everything is possible, as the latest AFCON tournament proved.”