Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt
KNOWLEDGE MUSONA says it would be suicidal for the Warriors to concentrate on simply trying to stop Egyptian superstar, Mohamed Salah, and wants his Warriors to pluck a leaf from their rumble in the Kinshasa jungle when they take on the hosts in the opening 2019 AFCON qualifier here on Friday.
The Warriors skipper, who celebrates his 29th birthday on the very day he will lead his men into what some believe is Mission Impossible, sat down with The Herald yesterday and took us on a detailed journey inside their camp during the qualifiers, the addition of the British Brigade and how his team has now come of age.
He told us he believes they now have been transformed into real Warriors, who have no fear even taking on the mighty Pharaohs in the tournament’s opener, really believe they can go far in this tournament, they now walk with a spring in their step and even strike fear into the hearts of their opponents.
In a refreshingly candid interview at their base camp, before they moved into their official hotel yesterday, Musona told us:
He has never felt this happy, this fit and this confident, playing for the Warriors since making his debut for the national team on March 3, 2010, under the tutelage of the same coach, Sunday Chidzambwa, who will lead the team at this Nations Cup finals.
From the first game of the 2019 AFCON qualifiers, in the 3-0 romp against Liberia in which he became the first Warrior to score three goals in a Nations Cup match, he picked out that something special was brewing up in this team that eventually topped their group.
The victory in Kinshasa over the DRC was very special and helped transform them from being boys into men because it left a lasting impression, among all the players, that they had certainly come of age and could now confront the challenges that come with African football head-on.
The professionalism brought by the British Brigade — Tendayi Darikwa and Alec Mudimu — in shaping their defence into a solid unit, which has made them a difficult team to break down even when they are playing away from home, has been priceless.
As leader, he is humbled to be leading such a special group, which doesn’t have the star names that are synonymous with many teams in African football, but, when their individual qualities are combined, they can stand toe-to-toe with any of the giants in the game on the continent.
He has never been this confident that they can do wonders, at such a big stage, like the AFCON finals, and he doesn’t see how they can crash out of the group stages if they just keep it right and play the way that has served them well in the past two years.
The Warriors, unlike most of the teams at this tournament, have become virtually a club side because a number of the key players have been playing together for some time and, although there have been changes to the team that he here, it contains nine of the players who were in Gabon.
He has a special relationship with the Warriors fans, who have always believed in him from the day he started playing for the team, and that inspires him to become the demon he turns into, once he wears that jersey, and by his own admission, he plays better for the national team than his clubs.
He is now at peace with himself, after a healing crusade to Nigerian prophet TB Joshua, whom he credits for the healing process that eventually saw God healing his troubled ankle, which had forced him to train and play in pain, both for club and country, for the past five years.
He believes he has about 10 years of competitive football still remaining in his body and, as long as he believes he can serve his country well, and as long as the coaches also feel he can help the team, he will continue to be part of the international football scene.
He is pained by how things have not worked well for him, especially in the past season at his Belgian club Anderlecht, but he is ready for the future even if that could mean, if the team decides, he has to play his football elsewhere in Europe where he won’t be restricted to cameo appearances.
He ruled out a return to Kaizer Chiefs, for now, despite speculation that has always suggested he could retreat to the comfort of the Amakhosi at Super Diski and link up with Khama Billiat, and says his focus remains with plying his trade in Europe and this AFCON finals could be decisive for him.
Representing his country at this AFCON finals is a sacrifice he is taking because pre-season at Anderlecht begins tomorrow and by the time the Nations Cup campaign is over, the new coaching set-up at the club, led by Manchester City legend Vincent Kompany, might have settled for the players they want for the new season.
However, given this is a national cause and, because of the special relationship he has always enjoyed with the Warriors fans and his desire to always give back to them by winning matches to make them smile, it’s a gamble he is ready to take.
He believes this Warriors team should be given another four years together, with the addition of some exciting young talent coming through the ranks and under Chidzambwa, because it has so much potential to do something special for the country.
As part of the countdown to this Friday’s showdown against the Pharaohs, The Herald will be breaking down the special interview it had with Musona to give our readers a daily dosage of what the captain thinks about this mission touching on different subjects every day. “I have always wanted to give the best for my country when I am playing for Zimbabwe and I always want to win and I always want to fight,’’ he said.
“And, maybe, it’s just the right attitude, or the belief, because every time when I go onto that field wearing the jersey for Zimbabwe, I always believe in myself and I believe in everyone wearing the jersey and playing in the team. “It’s a different fighting spirit that I have, for each and every minute I am there, I always know that all you need is just a second to score a goal and there are many seconds in 90 minutes so, I always believe and always fight and I don’t want to come out of the game without a goal or having contributed something for my team to win.
“That is what makes me tick, fighting for my team and my country and I know that every time I play for Zimbabwe, everyone supports me, they have been supporting me since I started playing for the national team, and the best way I can respond is to fight for them. “And, even if I don’t score, what is important is that I contribute to help my team do well and get a good result, this is what makes me good, I think.’’ He says targeting Salah, in the first match, would be suicidal.
“We should not only at stopping Mohamed Salah but everyone on the field because if we make that mistake that we are going to fight against Salah, we will be destroyed by someone we don’t know,’’ he said. “We just have to make sure that we are strong in every position and we are ready to fight in every duel and also take the chances that we might have, we are not here to talk, we are here to play, we came here to fight and it’s gonna be a tough game.’’