The War­riors get new kit

WAR­RIORS get 2017 Na­tions Cup Fi­nals cam­paign un­der­way to­mor­row DRC, Congo AND Liberia lie in am­bush for a place at 2019 AFCON SHOW

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Front Page - Rob­son Sharuko Se­nior Sports Edi­tor

FOR Zim­babwe tal­is­man Knowl­edge Mu­sona — the man whose form will be cru­cial in the War­riors’ cause at the Na­tions Cup show­case in Gabon — life in the fast lane of in­ter­na­tional foot­ball will come full cir­cle when he plunges into the qual­i­fy­ing bat­tles for the 2019 AFCON fi­nals in June this year.

The 26-year-old Bel­gium-based for­ward has es­tab­lished him­self as the War­riors’ all-weather king­pin since an­nounc­ing his ar­rival, on the big stage of the Na­tions Cup, by scor­ing his first goal for his coun­try’s se­nior na­tional foot­ball team on Septem­ber 5, 2010, in Mon­rovia, against the Lone Stars of Liberia.

And the KV Oos­tende striker, who needs to ex­plode for the War­riors to make a huge im­pres­sion in Gabon where they get their cam­paign un­der­way to­mor­row against Al­ge­ria, will see his in­ter­na­tional ca­reer com­ing full cir­cle in June when Zim­babwe be­gin a quest for a place at the 2019 AFCON fi­nals with a home date against Liberia. Time, in­deed, flies. It’s hard to be­lieve seven years have passed since Mu­sona in­tro­duced him­self to the War­riors’ fans with a goal at the SKD Sports Com­plex in Mon­rovia by push­ing Zim­babwe into the lead in their 2012 Na­tions Cup opener be­fore the Liberi­ans ral­lied to force a share of the spoils in a 1-1 draw.

That goal marked the ar­rival of a hit­man who would, in time, trans­form him­self into the War­riors’ golden boy, the leader of their at­tack, the man the team usu­ally turns to for goals.

The one who takes their penal­ties, blessed with nerves of steel he can even per­form a “pa­nenka” at home, with the match still goal­less and the crowd on the verge of ex­plod­ing from a toxic com- bi­na­tion of im­pa­tience and frus­tra­tion. Along the way, Khama Bil­liat — who en­joyed a break­through sea­son last year to such an ex­tent he even made the team among Africa’s finest XI play­ers cho­sen by CAF — emerged to help him share the bur­den of lead­ing the War­riors’ at­tack, but Mu­sona re­mains the main man for the se­nior na­tional team.

Amid con­cerns Bil­liat’s im­pact in Gabon could be af­fected by the rav­ages of a long sea­son which has seen him play non-stop foot­ball for 18 months, for club and coun­try in ma­jor tour­na­ments like the AFCON qual­i­fiers, a suc­cess­ful CAF Cham­pi­ons League ad­ven­ture, a flir­ta­tion with the CAF Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup and, of course, the FIFA Club World Cup, Mu­sona’s form could be de­ci­sive for the War­riors on their re­turn to the Na­tions Cup fi­nals.

He scored three goals to help the War­riors book their ticket to Gabon, bring­ing his Na­tions Cup tally to nine goals, with the first hav­ing come that af­ter­noon in Mon­rovia against the same Liberi­ans who will — as was the case in the 2012 AFCON qual­i­fiers — pro­vide the first op­po­si­tion for Zim­babwe in the bat­tle for a place at the 2019 AFCON fi­nals in Cameroon.

Mu­sona has now scored 15 goals for the War­riors, with two com­ing in the 2014 World Cup qual­i­fiers, while four have come in friendly in­ter­na­tion­als.

The im­me­di­ate mis­sion, though, for Mu­sona and his War­riors is to deal with the 2017 Na­tions Cup busi­ness, in a very tough group that also in­cludes Africa’s num­ber one ranked coun­try Sene­gal and the plucky Tu­nisians, in Gabon where the im­mor­tal­ity of be­com­ing the first group from this coun­try to make it into the knock­out stages beck­ons.

Just like the pi­o­neers of 2004, led by the great­est War­rior of all­time Peter Ndlovu, the Class of 2017 is made up of only rook­ies who are mak­ing their maiden ap­pear­ance at this stage of foot­ball on the con­ti­nent.

They are led by the only skip­per in Gabon ply­ing his trade on the con­ti­nent and a coach who is the only gaffer at this show­case with­out the ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing worked in Europe.

But, in a game that was shaken to its very foun­da­tions by Riyad Mahrez and his col­leagues at Le­ices­ter City, as they de­fied 5000-1 odds to be­come cham­pi­ons of Eng­land last year, dreams are now known to come true.

And, by co­in­ci­dence, Mahrez is the man the War­riors will bat­tle in the first game of their Gabonese ad­ven­ture as he rep­re­sents his Al­ge­rian home­land.

In­ter­est­ingly, a num­ber of sea­soned African foot­ball an­a­lysts and com­men­ta­tors have been sug­gest­ing Mu­sona and his team­mates could write the Cin­derella tale of this Na­tions Cup fi­nals.

And that Zam­bia some­how emerged from be­ing rank out­siders to trans­form them­selves into win­ners, the last time the AFCON road­show came to Gabon, pro­vide an ironic, if not fas­ci­nat­ing, link to all this.

The ab­sence of mid­fielder Marvelous Nakamba, un­avail­able for to­mor­row’s show­down against Al­ge­ria be­cause of sus­pen­sion, is a mas­sive blow for the War­riors.

But, if there is a team that owes its pres­ence in Gabon to team­work than just the in­flu­ence of one dom­i­nant su­per­star who made it all pos­si­ble, then it has to be Pa­suwa’s men.

Yes­ter­day, their kit part­ners, Mafro, un­veiled the kit which the War­riors will use in Gabon with the firm rallying ev­ery­one in their sta­ble to back Pa­suwa and his troops.

“We are proud to be as­so­ci­ated with the WAR­RIORS for this con­ti­nen­tal clash of Africa’s finest foot­balling na­tions and our best wishes to the na­tion of Zim­babwe at AFCON 17,” the com­pany said. “Rise up Zim­babwe! “To all our mem­bers please join us to wish best of luck to the War­riors for the up­com­ing AFCON. The only South­ern African coun­try in this year’s AFCON, that says a lot.” Of course, it does. For Mu­sona, who strug­gled to make an im­pres­sion in Ger­many be­fore ex­plod­ing in Bel­gium, Gabon presents an­other op­por­tu­nity to show the world he has the qual­ity to play in the best leagues in Europe and hav­ing scored, re­peat­edly, for his coun­try’s cause since burst­ing on the scene in 2010 with­out due re­ward, this is his big chance.

And, when the Gabonese ad­ven­ture is over, hope­fully af­ter the War­riors have shaken African foot­ball to the core, he only has five months of rest, from in­ter­na­tional duty, be­fore he re­turns to serve

THE Zim­babwe War­riors are wor­ried about the rate at which they are con­ced­ing penal­ties ahead of their 2017 Na­tions Cup fi­nals opener against Al­ge­ria here to­mor­row.

As­sis­tant coach Mkhuphali Masuku says it’s an area they have been work­ing on ahead of the show­down against the Desert Foxes.

Yes­ter­day the War­riors trained at the pitch near their ho­tel un­der the guid­ance of coach Cal­listo Pa­suwa.

They were again ex­pected to hold an­other train­ing at 8:30pm last night which did not take place.

“Penal­ties are part of the game but we have been work­ing on that af­ter the Cameroon friendly,” said Masuku.

The War­riors con­ceded a penalty against the In­domitable Lions when de­fender Elisha Muroiwa made a rash tackle on his op­po­nent in the box and was duly pun­ished. The se­nior na­tional team also con­ceded an­other penalty in the friendly in­ter­na­tional against Cote d’lvoire in Abid­jan which saved by Dono­van Be­nard in a goal­less draw.

“The morale in camp is very high and the boys are very ex­cited about this achieve­ment (of play­ing at the AFCON fi­nals),” said Masuku.

“The first game in ev­ery tour­na­ment is very im­por­tant. We need to do well and we are not re­ally think­ing about the strength of the op­po­nents.”

The War­riors are based in Moanda, a town near Franceville, about 60 km from the match venue. Zim­babwe are also stay- ing at the same ho­tel with Al­ge­ria.

“It’s hu­mid but the weather is not that bad,” said Masuku. “The boys should be able to ad­just.” Mid­fielder Danny Phiri said they were ad­just­ing to the con­di­tions.

“We are get­ting used to the con­di­tions and we are get­ting there. The train­ing fa­cil­ity is very con­ve­nient for us and it’s good we don’t have to travel a long dis­tance for train­ing.

“We will try to ad­just. This is some- thing huge and ev­ery­one is pre­pared to show­case what they can do. Ev­ery­one is ready for the game.

“We fol­low the coach’s tac­tics and we are not re­ally wor­ried about the stars that Al­ge­ria have,” he said.

Cal­listo Pa­suwa

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