Ibrahim Amada says Madagascar’s first-ever participation at the Africa Cup of Nations during the 2019 edition in Egypt was “indescribable.”
The island nation made it into the continental tournament after finishing second in Group A of the qualifiers behind Senegal – who were runners-up in the final, and ahead of Equatorial Guinea and Sudan.
In the tournament proper, the Barea were paired with three-time champions Nigeria as well as Guinea and debutants Burundi.
To the surprise of many, Madagascar finished top of Group B, one point ahead of the Super Eagles and reached the quarter-finals where they lost 3-0 to Tunisia.
"We'd been dreaming of participating in the Afcon since childhood, and that materialised at the age of 27 or 28," Amada told Fifa.com.
"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."
Madagascar’s feat at Afcon 2019 has made them a team to be reckoned with and the 19-time capped Amada wants the team to carry that strong form into having a shot at making it to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The Indian Ocean-based country have never made it to the World Cup before and will have to navigate their way past Benin Republic, DR Congo and Tanzania - who all featured at Afcon 2019, before they make their way into the final qualification round that determines the five African representatives at the global showpiece.
"We want to carry that momentum into the World Cup qualifiers, but we must take it one step at a time and not rush things,” Amada continued.
“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.
"In Africa there are no small or big teams. 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."