Musona hogs the limelight
By Robson Sharuko
HARARE – Knowledge Musona provided the spark for the Zimbabwe Warriors with a sensational hat trick as a number of southern African nations – still reeling from the region’s poor campaign in the quest for a place at the last Nations Cup finals – roared on the opening weekend of the latest qualifiers for the 2019 AFCON showcase in Cameroon.
The 26-year-old Belgium-based forward became the first Warriors captain to score an AFCON hat trick in the comfortable 3-0 victory over Liberia at the National Sports Stadium in Harare. Musona has transformed himself into a folk hero in Zimbabwe with his brilliance, when in national colours during the past seven years.
Musona also became the first Zimbabwean to score a hat trick in a Nations Cup game in 18 years with Agent Sawu, who once played his football in Switzerland, having been the last player to do so in the gold-and-green Warriors jersey in 1999.
He also became the third Warrior to score three goals in an AFCON qualifier in history with Vitalis Takawira having been the first to do so in a 4-1 demolition of Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions in Harare on January 22, 1995.
Musona’s three goals took his tally, in the last four AFCON games to six and there is a buzz in Zimbabwe that the forward, affectionately known as the Smiling Assassin, could take the Warriors to the 2019 AFCON finals in Cameroon.
“He is a unique talent, there is no doubt about that, and the fact that he was carrying the weight that came with being named the captain and also shouldering the burden of an attack that lacked the presence of Khama Billiat didn’t appear to affect him and actually provided an inspiration for him to do even better,’’ Warriors team manager Wellington Mpandare told The Southern Times.
“There is something about him, that star quality, and you can see it with every touch of the ball that he makes, you can see in his movement and he is always a threat to the opponents even on the occasions when he doesn’t have the ball with his dangerous off-the-ball running.
“It’s not easy for someone to score for his country in the AFCON games but for Knowledge it appears to come naturally, he makes it appear very simple yet it’s not that simple and on Sunday he could even have scored five or six with his best effort unlucky to come off the crossbar.
“In football the word genius appears to be used randomly and it’s a shame but when it comes to the Warriors, this guy is a genius, no doubt about that, and without him when he was injured at the 2017 AFCON finals we struggled but when he came back for that last game against Tunisia he showed his quality with a wonder goal.’’
The Warriors were the only Southern African nation to qualify for the 2017 AFCON finals in Gabon but, it appears, a number of countries from the region want to make it to the 2019 Nations Cup showcase in Cameroon.
South Africa, winners of the tournament in 1996, provided a huge statement of their ambitions to qualify for Cameroon with an impressive 2-0 victory over Nigeria in the Super Eagles backyard. This was the first competitive victory for Bafana Bafana against the West African giants.
There is a deep rivalry between South Africa and Nigeria which started when many Nigerians questioned Bafana Bafana’s claim that they had won the Nations Cup in 1996 in a tournament which the Super Eagles, who were the dominant team on the continent back then, snubbed because of a political fallout between the two countries.
And when the Super Eagles came to South Africa in 2013 and won the Nations Cup tournament, a number of Nigerian fans found a reason to mock their hosts and suggest they were right to say Bafana Bafana would not have been champions in 1996 if the West African giants had taken part in that tournament.
But, on Saturday, new coach Stuart Baxter guided Bafana Bafana to an historic 2-0 victory at the Uyo International Stadium to silence some of those Nigerian voices for now.
“Beating Nigeria in their home is massive for the whole country and you must excuse me if I am very, very pleased. We could have scored more goals with a little bit more composure, even though I don’t want to sound like a bad winner “ Baxter told reporters in a post-match conference.
Goals by Tekelo Rantie, who appears to have perfected the art of scoring against the Super Eagles, and substitute Percy Tau gave Bafana Bafana a memorable victory.
There was also a first for another Southern African nation when Mozambique beat Zambia, for the first time in a competitive match, with a 1-0 victory at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola – the Mambas first victory in 20 attempts against their rivals.
Mozambique are under new coach, Abel Xavier, who once played in the English Premiership, said the victory should send a loud message across the continent of his team’s capacity.
“I am very proud of my players after working with the team for one-and-a-half years changing things to make things happen,’’ the Portuguese told the official CAF website.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Zambia whose Under-20 side has cheered the nation by reaching the quarter-finals of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup and also won the African Under-20 Nations Cup on home soil.
Skipper Rainford Kalaba had rallied behind his players to redeem themselves, after their failure to qualify for the 2017 AFCON finals, by beating Mozambique and starting their campaign on a winning note.
“We didn’t go to Africa Cup of Nations the last time and this is an opportunity to go to the 2019 tournament,” he told Cafonline.
Lesotho impressed with an away 1-1 draw in Tanzania.
“I am happy that we managed to secure a point away though it was not easy. In the group, every team has a chance to qualify. Our target was the maximum points away from home, but a point is not bad. I believe we will play well in the remaining fixtures to give ourselves a good chance to qualify,’’ Lesotho coach Moses Maliehe told Cafonline.
Swaziland ensured that, for the second AFCON qualifying campaign in succession, they avoided defeat in the first game of the qualifiers by holding Niger to a goalless draw away from home.
During the 2017 AFCON qualifiers first round matches, Swaziland produced the shock of the weekend with a victory over Guinea in Morocco.
Madagascar produced a shock 3-1 away win over Sudan, Malawi beat Comoros 1-0 while Botswana fell at home to a 0-1 defeat at the hands of Mauritania.