Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
KNOWLEDGE Musona answered his critics in the best manner possible last night with an influential role as he guided his Warriors to an historic AFCON qualifying victory over Zambia at the Heroes Stadium in Lusaka.
The 29-year-old forward has been the subject of some vicious attacks by those who have been suggesting he is now past his prime and should be pushed into an early retirement from international football by being dropped from the Warriors.
That army of critics argue Musona doesn’t deserve his place in the team because, by not playing for his Belgian club Anderlecht, the coaches can’t justify why they are calling him for national duty without any statistics or form to back their decision.
The Smiling Assassin’s case was not helped by an indifferent show at the 2019 Nations Cup finals, where — playing without the benefit of being fully fit — he didn’t produce the high standards which the fans have come to expect of him whenever he plays for his country.
A glaring miss in the group match against Uganda when he somehow sent his effort to kiss the crossbar with a yawing net in front of him didn’t help matters either, with some suggesting he was now past his prime.
That he had scored five goals, only the third player on the continent to score more than four goals during the qualifiers for a place in Egypt, didn’t appear to matter to his critics.
And, when he again failed to produce the fireworks which have come to be associated with him whenever he led his Warriors during the lifeless goalless draw against Botswana in the opening 2019 AFCON qualifier last Friday, they were starting to write the epitaph on his tombstone.
On the eve of last night’s match, caretaker coach Joey Antipas had to field questions again, from the Zambian media, why he was investing his trust in Musona when the player wasn’t playing regular top-flight football in Belgium.
“He could not be playing regularly for the first team at RSC Anderlecht, but he is training regularly and is playing games regularly for the reserve side,’’ said Antipas.
“Although he has been criticised, even us as coaches have been criticised because of lack of game time, but we know that he can deliver and retains the captaincy of the team.
“It’s just a matter of time before he delivers for us.’’
But, as they say in this game, form is temporary and class is permanent.
And, at the Heroes Stadium in Lusaka last night, Musona reminded his critics of his true quality and why he has remained one of the Warriors most influential players.
First, he picked Khama Billiat with a beauty of a ball, swung in from a corner kick for the diminutive forward to head home into the far post and give Zimbabwe the lead.
Then, after Patson Daka had squeezed home an equaliser after beating goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze at his near post in that first half, Musona again played a big role in the winner.
With time running out, and the game delicately balanced, Musona brought the ball down with his chest down the right channel, and then as two Zambian defenders closed in on him, he found the space to squeeze the ball past them.
Somehow, he had already picked that Billiat had strayed into a very good position and the Kaizer Chiefs man gobbled the chance with aplomb, rolling the ball past the goalkeeper for the winning goal.
Two months ago, Billiat came out in full support of Musona, saying the Smiling Assassin brings the best out of him when he plays for the Warriors.
“It is the greatest combination I have ever had since I was young, that also helps me grow as a player,” he told The Herald.
“Seeing him (and) stealing some ideas of football, watching him play, how he goes into the pockets and how he is calm in front goal and in the box, it has helped me a lot.
“For me, to see him doing that, it also gives me something to continue pushing harder, and doing a little bit of what he is doing to help my game.
“He is a great player who can score from any angle and it is a motivation on the field that he can do something any time. It brings less pressure on you and you can play with a lot of joy and relaxed.’’
And, in Lusaka last night, the Double-K combination sparkled once again.