Johannesburg - Madagascar, the surprise team of the last Africa Cup of Nations, kicked off their 2021 qualifying campaign with a 1-0 win over Ethiopia on Saturday through a Rayan Raveloson goal.
The 22-year-old midfielder from French second-tier side Troyes netted on 19 minutes in Antananarivo for the hosts, who are ranked 95th in the world, 56 places above their rivals.
It was a tentative start in Group K by the Malagasys with French coach Nicolas Dupuis admitting it will be hard to match the achievements of earlier this year in Egypt.
The Indian Ocean island nation stunned three-time African champions Nigeria, then upset the Democratic Republic of Congo before losing to Tunisia in the quarter-finals.
"We need to build on the work that has been done to show that hard work pays off," stressed the 51-year-old, who also coaches a French lower league club.
"Otherwise, our achievements in Egypt could become a one-off," said the coach who was rewarded for his efforts in Egypt with a new four-year contract.
Ivory Coast host Niger in Abidjan later Saturday in the other Group K matchday one fixture.