By Robson Sharuko
After writing a Cinderella tale, the closest football has come to producing its version of that classic Rumble in the Jungle world heavyweight boxing showdown in Kinshasa, the Warriors now need to somehow find a way to hunt without their talismanic leader tonight.
The one whose special goal, a product of his determination to chase seemingly lost causes, to find an island of composure in an ocean where many would have panicked and to provide the finishing touch to it all, made all the difference in Kinshasa on Saturday.
The one who, in his last home assignment in these 2019 AFCON qualifiers in June last year, made history as the first Warriors skipper to score a hat-trick in games of such magnitude used by the continental football chiefs to separate boys from men.
And the one who has scored four of the seven goals which these Warriors have in their tally at the halfway stage of these qualifiers for a place in Cameroon next year where the first 24-team AFCON finals will be staged.
Knowledge Musona, the deadly assassin with a deceptive smile which hasn’t been erased from his face during the time he has turned from a boy into a man and a leader, will not play a part for the Warriors at the National Sports Stadium tonight.
The best thing to happen to the Warriors, when it comes to consistency and the ability to provide that X-factor to make the difference, since Peter Ndlovu, Musona’s statistics in the service of his country has been the stuff of legends.
His three goals against Liberia last June saw him touch the heavens while his golden goal against the Democratic Republic of Congo on Saturday provided us with the insurance we needed to weather the battering that inevitably came in the final phase, especially when the hosts got a numerical advantage.
Ironically, Musona was the fall guy after he was sent off ruling him out of tonight’s match and next month’s trip to Monrovia for a duel against Liberia in the penultimate match of these qualifiers.
Such has been his massive influence on this generation of Warriors, which he leads both as the leader of their team and leader of their attack, it’s hard to imagine how they will cope without him in their line-up against a tough opponent likely to throw everything at them.
“This guy has been there for us, he has carried us over the line one too many times,” Cephas Chimedza, one of a small elite group of Warriors to score a goal at the AFCON finals, said on Twitter.
“Today, he is not playing and his dreams are in your hands.
“We’ll go there and play for him. Today, we are going to carry him over the line, come on guys, let’s do this.”
From his base in Belgium, where Musona also plies his trade at Anderlecht, Chimedza has been rallying behind his Warriors and believes there is something exciting about this band of players.
“Regai vanzi golden generation. Warriors and away wins, it’s like oil and water,” he said.
“This group of Warriors has found a way to grind out results.
They have been together for a while now and with certain inclusions I see them qualifying.
“Not to mention they have a coach (Sunday Chidzambwa) who knows the African terrain. I believe.”
And so do many his countrymen and women who are expected to pack the giant stadium to the rafters tonight for a duel that could take the Warriors a step closer to Cameroon should they win.
It has been a wild campaign for the team with injuries to key personnel making life difficult for the coach and his technical staff.
Tino Kadewere, the other forward who could have been part of this show, is still trying to recover from a long-term injury.
“The journey continues, let’s go boys,” he said on Twitter.
“It hurts not being part of the squad but working hard for a stronger comeback, all the best Team Zim.”
With so much on the line, it’s likely that tonight’s game will be even tougher for the Warriors, than the one they played on Saturday.
The Congolese’s recent draw in Nigeria shows they are good travellers and man-for-man and pound-for-pound, they have the better players than the Warriors.
But whether they have a better team is something that can be debated because, as Argentina have shown in recent years, having the best players doesn’t automatically mean having the best team.
A number of the so-called lightweights have been punching above their weight in International football of late with the Comoros holding Cameroon and then conceding a 97th minute penalty to lose in Morocco.
Like Muhammad Ali in 1974, the Warriors arrived at the Stade Tata Raphaël last Saturday as ranked underdogs, against an opponent everyone expected to win.
For Ali, the match-up was against the then undefeated world champion George Foreman who was at the prime of his athletic prowess and blowing away opponents with ease.
They called it the Rumble in the Jungle and when it was all over, in the eighth round, it was Ali who was soaking in the plaudits after somehow surviving a barrage of vicious punches to knock out Foreman.
For the Warriors, the priceless goal that eventually sealed the Kinshasa deal was not seen by millions of Zimbabweans even though the identity of the goal-scorer was certainly not a surprise.
On a wild Saturday night where technology kept failing, leading to glitches that kept hiding images of the drama unfolding inside the stadium from the eyes of those watching on television, the Smiling Assassin refused to fail on this mission for his country.
For the fourth time in this 2019 AFCON campaign, and for the second time in three games, Musona scored and his name was once again being printed in the gold colours of his team’s kit.
Of course, he wasn’t the only hero last Saturday where a number of Warriors stood up to be counted and refused to be bullied by their hosts.
Khama Billiat embodied the spirit where every man put in a shift with probably his best defensive show, yes you read it correctly, his defensive contributions for the cause of the team were awesome.
The defence worked as a unit against quality opponents, whose ranks included Cedric Bakambu, the man who left Spanish La Liga side Villarreal in January for the Chinese Super League in a $85.5 million transfer, making him the most expensive African star then.
Bakambu earns a staggering $20.833 million a year, for the four years he will spend at Beijing Guoan, which will translate to about $403 870 a week.
Only the Brazilian duo of Oscar and Hulk, who earn $23.168 million a year, are paid higher than Bakambu in China.
A team that could even afford to leave Yannick Bolasie, who recently was starring in the English Premiership before moving to Aston Villa in the Championship, on the bench.
And a team that could afford not to field Benik Afobe who is now on loan at Stoke City from English Premiership side Wolves.
For such a tough battle Chidzambwa would certainly have wanted all his best troops, especially his skipper, to be available tonight but fate has ruled otherwise.
But those available will have to fight and if they did it in Kinshasa, of all places, they should believe they can do it at home. The Herald