The Herald (Zimbabwe)

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

- 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.

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 ??  ?? Callisto Pasuwa
Callisto Pasuwa

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