By Petros Kausiyo
Seasoned coaches — Rodwell Dhlakama and Norman Mapeza — have paid glowing tribute to Zimbabwe soccer team captain Knowledge Musona and his band of Warriors for qualifying for third straight Africa Cup of Nations finals and underlining their commitment to the cause of their motherland.
Musona has over the last 11 years evolved into the Warriors leading light since making his debut in an international friendly against South Africa at Rufaro in March 2010.
To underline his significance to the cause of his nation, Musona has led a fine class of Warriors that includes his “partner in crime” Khama Billiat, which qualified for the 2017 and 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Gabon and Egypt.
The 31-year-old KAS Eupen forward was also available to provide inspiration when some of his teammates were ruled out by injuries and travel restrictions occasioned by Covid-19.
Musona provided the assist that gave the Warriors a 1-0 win over Botswana in Francistown in the penultimate Group H qualifier, with the Zebras goalkeeper spilling his free kick into the path of debutant Perfect Chikwende to head home.
Chikwende’s maiden goal for the Warriors and coupled with Zambia’s 3-3 home draw with Algeria ensured it was Zimbabwe who joined the Desert Foxes on the journey to the next Nations Cup tourney in Cameroon.
Mapeza, the man who handed Musona and Billiat their Warriors debuts along with the likes of Costa Nhamoinesu, said he had been watching with satisfaction the growth of his proteges’ into “real men who are achieving their goals because of their dedication to duty’’.
“I think it’s all about dedication and commitment to play for their country which has been shown by those guys and the need to help football develop in the country,’’ Mapeza said.
The FC Platinum gaffer said such commitment to national duty could only serve as an inspiration to the upcoming players.
Mapeza, however, believes the Warriors should now use the World Cup qualifiers to fine tune for the Nations Cup next January.
Just like with Mapeza, Musona’s importance to the Warriors cause has not been lost on the man who helped hone his skills during the striker’s teenage days in the national Under-17 and Under-20 sides — Ngezi Platinum Stars coach Dhlakama.
“Musona’s impact as a footballer has been well-documented in Zimbabwean football and from the way I see it, he is destined to be remembered as one of the all-time greats.
“Each time he is called upon to do duty for the country he does not disappoint and each time he is out because of injuries his absence is felt.
“I however, feel that he has not been given the respect and recognition he fully deserves.
“From age of 16 his dedication and desire to lead the country was so evident that he never lost a competition he ventured into as a captain.
“I remember travelling to Lesotho with 12 players in an Under- 20 tournament, the ANOCA Zone Six games where we won gold. Despite the fact that two other players got injured, Musona showed he was a true Warrior and captain as he stepped in to fight for his flag and badge,’’ Dhlakama said.
“That to me showed his credentials and never die attitude at that level. Football is a team sport where everyone who made the Warriors qualification a reality must be equally commended but the fact that quality is evident can’t be underestimated.
“Congratulations to the whole technical team, the players and coaches who started the journey and those who finished the race and by and large the country for the historic achievement”.
For Musona, a Smiling Assassin who is as humble a group leader as they come, the victory was for both the country and his absent teammates whose availability for the Botswana and Zambia encounters was scuppered by injuries and Covid-19.
“I know it was difficult for some of our players to come for these two crucial matches. But I would like to thank my club, KAS Eupen, for always allowing me to come and represent my country.
“The match against Botswana was without doubt very difficult to play. It was a tough match but I would like to salute the resolve shown by the team.
“It wasn’t easy against a home team with the quality that Botswana has at the moment.
“But definitely it was a fantastic effort from the whole unit.
“We played for those who were not available. The likes of Khama Billiat, Tino Kadewere, Marshall Munetsi, Marvellous Nakamba, Tendayi Darikwa, and all the other key guys who didn’t come.
“So it was important to play for everyone and we dedicate the victory to them,’’ he said.
Musona will once again need to be at his sharpest when the Warriors begin their World Cup adventure with a home clash against rivals Bafana Bafana on the weekend of June 5-8.
The former Kaizer Chiefs man scored three goals to help the Warriors qualify for the 2017 Nations Cup. Two years later 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).
Warriors 2022 World Cup qualifying fixtures:
Zimbabwe vs South Africa June 5-8
Ethiopia vs Zimbabwe June 11-14
Ghana vs Zimbabwe September 1-4
Zimbabwe vs Ghana September 5-7
South Africa vs Zimbabwe October 6-9
Zimbabwe vs Ethiopia October 10-12
Group winners will Qualify for the third round were all 10 group winners will be drawn into five home-and-away ties. The winners of each tie will advance to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar
Five teams will represent Africa. The Sunday Mail