By Tadious Manyepo
Zimbabwe captain, Knowledge Musona, says the absence of his regular striking partner, Khama Billiat, in the final two AFCON qualifiers, could not have come at a worse time for the Warriors.
The Kaizer Chiefs forward has been ruled out of the Warriors’ final two matches, against Botswana in Francistown, tomorrow, and against Zambia in Harare on Monday night.
The duo, dubbed the ‘’KK Attack,’’ have been the soul of the Warriors’ attack, in the past decade, and scored six goals, with each finding the target on three occasions, to fire the country to the 2017 AFCON finals, in Gabon.
Two years later, they took their combined tally to eight goals, as they powered the Warriors to the 2019 Nations Cup finals, in Egypt.
Musona scored five goals, the third best tally by all the players who featured in those qualifiers, behind leading scorer, Odion Ighalo (7), of Nigeria and Burundi’s Fiston Abdul Razak (6).
The Smiling Assassin was also the top scorer, in Southern Africa, during those qualifiers, with his tally beating Percy Tau’s four goals, for Bafana Bafana, and Mateus Galiano’s four goals, for Angola.
Even Liverpool superstar, Mohamed Salah, was forced to live in the shadows of Musona, during the qualifiers, as he also scored four goals, for the Pharaohs of Egypt.
Other high-profile players like Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech of Morocco, Aston Villa’s Trezeguet of Egypt, and Congolese forward, Cedric Bakambu, who at one time was Africa’s most expensive signing, scored four goals each.
Both Musona and Billiat have, on many occasions, found a way to make a mockery of their club form, whenever they play for the Warriors, turning on the power for the national team, now and again.
“Khama Billiat has almost always been there, and we have formed a formidable combination upfront and his absence, for these crucial games, is a big setback,” Musona told a media conference, in Harare, yesterday.
“Billiat is someone who can take care of a game single-handedly, when the chips are down, he is a good reader of the game and a very intelligent player.
“Playing without him is something which could be difficult for us.
“But, then he is not alone. There are other senior guys who aren’t coming as well.’’
Musona said the absence of the regular players will complicate their mission but feels those available should complete the mission.
The Warriors hold the aces, in what has now been reduced to a three-team race for the remaining sole ticket for a place in Cameroon next year, after group leaders Algeria, secured their place, last year.
Yet, they are the team who have been affected the most, by the Covid-19 protocols in Europe, with six of their regular players, including midfield star Marvelous Nakamba, unable to travel home for the two fixtures.
Zimbabwe are second, on five points, just a point ahead of Botswana, who are on four points, with Zambia sitting at the foot of the table, with three points.
The Warriors know any slip-up could mean disaster, for their qualification bid and Musona yesterday spelt the need for the relatively new players, in the fold, to embrace the challenge and fight for their country.
“The absence of key senior players has affected us in a big way,’’ he said. “You look at players like Marvelous (Nakamba), Tendayi (Darikwa), Admiral (Muskwe) and Jordan (Zemura).
“Tino (Kadewere) and Marshall Munetsi are the other senior guys who could miss these games and we are not talking of a small blow here.
“These are the guys who make the core of the team. But, the circumstances can’t allow them to be with us.
“So, what we can do is to play for them because we know how much they wish to see Zimbabwe qualify for the AFCON finals.
“We should play for them, and qualify, for we will also need them at the bigger stage when we qualify.
“We started this journey with them and they, obviously, want to see it being completed in a perfect way.’’
He said the Warriors have always been one family.
“If they were going to play, we know for real how much effort they were going to put and how they were going to put their heads on the bloc, for the sake of the country’s badge,’’ he said.
“The best that we can do, to make them happy, is also to put more than 100 percent in both matches. We need to put on the shift.
“We have some young players in the team, some of them are making their senior debut against Botswana.
“What I have realised, already, is they are keen to make their names, and play their part, in helping the team win these upcoming games.”
The skipper praised the young players for the positive energy they are exuding ahead of the crunch tie against the Zebras.
“We have been together, not for a lot of time, but we are trying, as the senior guys, to let them feel part of the group,’’ he said.
“It’s important that we give them the much-needed confidence, to be the best they can be.
“It’s also important to realise that these are AFCON qualification games and we, definitely, need the results.
“The young players’ quality is beyond any question.
“The verve, and the passion they are displaying, is very encouraging. I am confident that the team we have at the moment can match any team on the continent and Botswana isn’t an exception.
“We need to go all out in Botswana and attack.
“We need the result to put us in good stead for qualification. I believe in teamwork and good tactics and we have that.” The Herald