By Eddie Chikamhi
Warriors coach Sunday Chidzambwa reserved special mention for his captain Knowledge Musona after the talismanic forward sacrificed his own well-being to help Zimbabwe book their place at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals with victory over Congo at the National Sports Stadium yesterday.
Musona, who has been battling a groin injury for the past two weeks, passed a late fitness test on Saturday and went on to justify why the coach has faith in him by scoring an audacious volley towards the end of the first half.
Khama Billiat had put Zimbabwe ahead with just 20 minutes played from a free-kick, expertly taken just outside the box after midfielder Marshall Munetsi was impeded while in flight towards goal.
Chidzambwa — who was the first coach to lead the Warriors to AFCON back in 2004 — was over the moon yesterday after getting a crucial win over the Red Devils when Zimbabwe needed only a draw to achieve their mission as Group G leaders.
The veteran coach said he had belief in Musona, despite the forward having missed the bigger part of the preparations last week because of a groin injury. His goal yesterday was his fifth of the campaign and it confirmed him as the group’s top scorer.
“We knew what Knowledge can do in a game and I am happy for the medical team that has been trying to manage him from the word go.
“As you all saw, he scored a great goal from nothing.
“As coaches we thought we cannot leave such a great player outside or even on the bench. That is why we chose to start him,” said Chidzambwa.
Zimbabwe’s win over Congo was also a befitting revenge for the pain the Red Devils inflicted on the Warriors in 1991 when they quashed Zimbabwe’s hopes with a last gasp 2-2 draw in another decisive match at the same venue.
But the situation was different yesterday and, with the National Sports Stadium filled to near capacity, the Warriors found a way out.
Zimbabwe finished top of Group G with 11 points and were joined by DRC from the pool after the Leopards edged Liberia 1-0 in Kinshasa yesterday to finish second with nine points.
Liberia had seven points, while Congo anchored the group with five points.
Chidzambwa yesterday drew parallels between the current crop of Warriors and the team that qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time 15 years ago under his charge.
The veteran coach took over the campaign from Norman Mapeza who had given Zimbabwe a good head start by thrashing Liberia 3-0 at the giant stadium two years ago.
“I think we have some great players in the team.
The first time we qualified as a country we also had great players in the mould of Peter Ndlovu, Adam Ndlovu (late), Ronald Sibanda and Joel Luphahla. I think it’s the same with this group of players.
“We have talented players and we have never had any problem in the camp. They are so disciplined, they play to instruction and I wouldn’t say it was my magic for us to qualify. It’s they players, they did very well for the nation and I am happy for them,” said Chidzambwa.
Billiat gave Zimbabwe the best possible start to this home game when he slotted home from a free-kick.
The Red Devils’’ fullback Marvin Baudry was found guilty of an illegal challenge on Munetsi who had weaved his way through the middle of the park.
Billiat stood behind the ball with Ronald Pfumbidzai and after a small chat between the two players, the Kaizer Chiefs midfielder launched the ball over the wall and beyond the reach of diving goalkeeper Wilfrigon Mongondza.
Exactly 15 minutes later, Musona took matters into his own hands after he robbed Congo defender Fernand Mayembo of the ball in his own area following a mix-up with the keeper.
Though not at his usual best, Musona is one player who rarely fails to deliver when it comes to the national team duty.
Zimbabwe needed the insurance goal and out of the blue he unleashed an outrageous volley that sealed the berth at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations finals.
Musona said was happy with the win.
“It feels good and I must give credit to my teammates because I wasn’t playing alone. We started very well and we finished very well. Credit goes to the team and the coaches as well.
Overall we had a very good campaign,” said Musona.
Congo coach Valdo Filho was disappointed by the defeat.
The visitors Congo needed an outright win to upstage the Warriors in their own backyard.
But the Brazilian coach knew it was going to be difficult especially without one of his star players Thievy Bifouma who was ruled out of this important game through injury.
“Bifouma is our best player, we play our game around him all the time. We also missed Baron Kibamba our central defender through injury.
“I believe it was very tough for us playing without them especially playing with a team that has great players like Billiat.
I feel playing a team like Zimbabwe with all its talent you have to be careful, at any time they can create scoring chances,” said Valdo.
The game came against the backdrop of a natural disaster that struck Zimbabwe last week and a moment of silence for the victims of Cyclone Idai that left a trail of destruction in Manicaland.
The players also wore black armbands and ZIFA committed a dollar from each ticket sold to the victims.
Zimbabwe: G. Chigova. T. Darikwa, R. Pfumbidzai, A. Mudimu, T. Hadebe, M. Munetsi, D. Phiri, E. Rusike (O. Karuru, 65th minute), T. Kadewere (K. Mutizwa, 80th min), K. Billiat, K. Musona (T. Chawapihwa, 77th minute).
Congo: W. Mongoudza, H. Kanongo, M. Baudry, F. Mayembo, R. Etou (D. Bahamboula, 75th min), D. Ndinga, P. Oniangue (C. Mbendza, 46th min), M. Ndockyt, J. Loussoukou, P. Ibara, J. Makiesse (C. Kapolongo, 67th min). The Herald