Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
IT’S the striking combination that is destroying defences on the continent, made in the humble settings of the Aces Youth Soccer Academy, fine-tuned on the fields of Supa Diski in South Africa and crushing those employed to stop them in the AFCON trenches.
They are both 28, one is not only the captain, but also the talisman of the Warriors, while the other is the team’s posterboy, the talented forward who is now embracing the responsibility placed on his shoulders by his country he even gambles to represent his nation even when he is not fully fit.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat.
The two forwards have scored nine goals in the last six AFCON qualifying matches for the Warriors and five goals in the last three AFCON matches, including the last group match of the finals in Gabon last year, in the colours of their country.
That is, in terms of the AFCON qualifiers, the duo has provided 75 percent of the goals which the Warriors have scored in their last six matches in the tournament.
Only three other players – Costa Nhamoinesu, Cuthbert Malajila and Evans Rusike – have scored for the team in those matches and such is the impressive contribution from the Musona/Billiat combination that the combined tally of goals scored by others was equalled by Musona in just one match against Liberia.
Billiat was on target for the Warriors in Brazzaville on Sunday in their showdown against Congo, which ended on a 1-1 draw, keeping his good record of scoring in his first away AFCON qualifier he features in since he scored the winner against Malawi in Blantyre in a 2-1 victory in the 2017 Nations Cup qualifiers.
The diminutive forward missed the Warriors’ opening 2019 AFCON qualifier against Liberia at the National Sports Stadium in June last year after being elbowed out by injury, with his partner-in-crime Musona hogging the headlines after scoring a hat-trick.
Injury again threatened to rule him out of the match in Brazzaville, but Billiat took a gamble and chose to serve his country and the rewards for his heroism were instant as he scored the goal that earned the Warriors the priceless point.
Musona provided the assist after bursting into the right channel and spreading the ball across goal where Billiat, who had switched into a central attacking role, connected it into the roof of the net to give the Warriors the lead.
“Thank you Zimbabwe for your support,’’ Musona tweeted after the match. “It’s a (little) disappointing that we drew but a point is not bad too playing away from home.
“We all know that we can do better. Well done guys I’m really proud of you!! #Go Warriors Go #On to the next one.’’
A Warriors fan, Cornelius Tsvangirai, in his response to the tweet, summed up the feelings of many of the supporters.
“To me, you are the best thing to happen to Zimbabwean football after the Legend Peter Ndlovu . . . keep on working hard,’’ he said.
Billiat had also shared a video on Twitter, just before the match, of a kombi with a huge image of the footballer celebrating a goal, plastered on its rear.
“I appreciate all the love I get,’’ said Billiat, with the video having attracted more than 30 000 views by late yesterday.
Musona and Billiat’s purple patch in the colours of their country started when the former scored in the 1-1 draw against Guinea in Harare in a 2017 AFCON qualifier.
A Njabulo Ndlovu own goal followed in the 1-1 away draw against Swaziland before the Warriors showed their class in the reverse fixture with a comprehensive 4-0 destruction of the same opponents a few days later at the National Sports Stadium.
Billiat started the game on the bench, after a gruelling campaign for his old club Mamelodi Sundowns and without him in the team, the Warriors struggled in the first 45 minutes as the Swazis frustrated them to a goalless draw at the interval.
However, the introduction of Billiat at the start of the second half changed the game dramatically and the Warriors scored four times, without reply, with Musona, Nhamoinesu, Rusike and Khama on target for the hosts.
In the next AFCON qualifier, against Malawi, the Musona/Billiat combination was again the difference as the Warriors won 3-0 at home with Musona scoring a penalty while Billiat was also on target as Malajila scored the other goal.
A 0-1 defeat in Conakry at the hands of Guinea, in a match of little significance given that qualification for Gabon had been secured, was a rare game in which the name of either Musona of Billiat was on the scoresheet for the Warriors.
But Liberia were destroyed by Musona, in the next AFCON qualifier for the Warriors, with the new Warriors captain scoring all the three goals in that victory, making history as the first Zimbabwean skipper to achieve such a magical feat.
Billiat didn’t feature in that match because of injury.
On his return to the team on Sunday, Billiat immediately returned to goal-scoring charts with the only goal for the Warriors.
If one combines the AFCON finals show in Gabon last year, then Musona has scored four goals in his last three AFCON matches for the Warriors, while if one combines the COSAFA matches this year, Billiat has scored three goals in his last two matches for his country.
The duo scored six goals for the Warriors in the 2017 AFCON qualifiers, with either player on target three times, and only Islam Slimani of Algeria, Mohamed Salah of Egypt and Youssef El-Arabi of Morocco, with four goals, scored more goals than them.
Benin’s Stephane Sessegnon, Fereboy Dore of Congo-Brazzaville, Fiston Abdul Razak of Burundi and William Jeboh of Liberia, with five goals, Getameh Kabede of Ethiopia with six goals and El Arabi Hillel Soudani of Algeria with seven goals, were the only others who scored more goals than the Warriors’ deadly duo.