Eddie Chikamhi, Harare Bureau
Zimbabwe 3 – 0 Liberia
KNOWLEDGE Musona has played many memorable games for his country but his performance yesterday is likely to leave a lasting impression on the minds of many Zimbabweans after the forward grabbed a hat-trick in his first match as Warriors captain to subdue Liberia in the opening match of the 2019 African Cup of Nations soccer qualifiers at the National Sports Stadium.
On a fine afternoon on which many supporters responded to the plea to fill the giant stadium, the 26-year-old talisman lit up the stage with three well-executed goals that left the hosts dreaming of another fruitful campaign.
Zimbabwe took part in the Afcon finals in Gabon recently and are aiming to qualify for the next edition to be held in Cameroon in two years’ time.
The Warriors gave themselves a good head start to occupy the leading spot after giants and Group G favourites Democratic Republic of Congo had begun on a high with a 3-1 home win over Congo-Brazzaville the previous day.
But the weekend belonged to Musona. His performance made it so easy filling into the big boots that were once worn by Zimbabwe greats such as Peter Ndlovu and Benjani Mwaruwari.
His class and brilliance won it for the Warriors, capping a fine all-round performance by interim coach Norman Mapeza’s men.
The KV Oostende man, a worthy pick for the captain’s armband by Mapeza during the mid-week, led from the front after putting Zimbabwe ahead with 24 minutes on the clock and then adding two more goals to his tally after the interval.
With a bit of luck, he could have made it four with 15 minutes remaining but his curling shot from the edge of the box was denied by the crossbar.
Still, “the Smiling Assassin” walked home with the match ball as he joined an exclusive clique of Zimbabweans who have scored hat-tricks for the national team who include Peter Ndlovu and Vitalis “Digital” Takawira.
“I’m very happy, not only for myself but also for the whole team because it was the contribution also from the teammates which enabled me to score a hat-trick. I didn’t do it myself, it wasn’t individual play. We worked as a team and we scored from the chances that we got,” said Musona.
“Three points, that’s what we wanted. Everyone worked hard today. We give credit also to the supporters. They were behind us throughout the 90 minutes and it was a great result and a good start to the campaign,” Musona said.
Playing in front of a good crowd at the giant stadium after Zifa had reduced gate charges to $3 for the cheapest ticket, Zimbabwe were full value for their money.
Musona led his troops well with Kuda Mahachi always coming in handy when going forward. Musona got his first goal when he raced to meet an incisive pass through the middle from Danny Phiri and beat advancing Liberia goalkeeper Boison DeSouza.
Many would have wanted to question the inclusion of Thabani Kamusoko into the starting line-up after a long spell away from the Warriors where he was once a fringe player but the dreadlocked midfielder had a game of his life.
But after a hesitant start for both teams, Kamusoko was the first to test the opponents with a long-range shot which went just wide with only seven minutes played.
Coming from a successful season in Tanzania where he helped Young Africans win a second title in a row, the dreadlocked midfielder won many hearts combining well with Danny Phiri and Marvelous Nakamba to control the midfield.
His free-kick which rattled the upright could have sealed a good day in the office after Musona was brought down just outside the box with four minutes before the interval.
Orlando Pirates forward Tendai Ndoro had a bad day, missing some good opportunities. But Teenage Hadebe managed to overcome some early jitters and played his heart out in central defence.
Goalkeeper George Chigova was barely tested.
In fact, Zimbabwe did not give their opponents room to express themselves although the Liberians looked threatening going forward with winger Sylvanus Nimely, who plays for Spartak Moscow in Russia, looking dangerous.
Mahachi turned the provider for the second goal when he made a good run down the right flank, leaving his marker for dead. Musona expertly turned the ball in with an angled shot that gave the keeper no chance soon after the restart.
The Warriors talisman completed his hat-trick on 63 minutes with another demonstration of good technique from a tight angle from a cross by Partson Jaure.
Coach Mapeza was elated by the performance.
“It was a good game of football. I think we just won it in all departments. We defended well, we were compact in midfield and upfront we were just clinical. I say congratulations to the boys, they worked so hard,” said Mapeza.
“I think we have built a strong foundation going forward. The most important thing is just to be consistent. Let’s try to keep the team as it is.
“As everyone knows, I am interim coach here, maybe next game there will be a new coach but my advice to whoever is going to come and take over as coach is let’s keep this team and include one or two guys who were not available today. I think it’s a good team, a good mixture of experienced players and youngsters. I think it’s good for the nation,” said Mapeza.
Liberia coach James Debbah said his team lacked experience especially after missing almost half-a-dozen foreign-based professionals who included Mamelodi Sundowns winger Anthony Laffor and William Jabor of Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca.
“We played against an experienced team. My team is very young. We have six key players, very important players who did not play today.
“These are local based players with exception of a few. Zimbabwe are more experienced than us. We made some couple of mistakes that we paid for but the game was good.
“This is football. I’m not giving excuses, we lost the game. We accept the result, we have to go back and redouble our efforts. But I can guarantee you that the away game in Liberia will not be the same,” said Debbah.
The qualifiers will resume in March next year when Zimbabwe travel to Congo.
Zimbabwe: G. Chigova, E. Chipeta, O. Bhasera, T. Hadebe, P. Jaure, D. Phiri, T. Kamusoko (D. Chafa, 90th minute), M. Nakamba, K. Mahachi (O. Karuru, 87th minute), K. Musona, T. Ndoro (E. Rusike, 71st minute).
Liberia: B. DeSouza, Z. Krangar (M. Dorley, 57th minute), P. Kennedy, H. Varney, D. Glay, T. Dennis, S. Nyumah, M. Macauley, S. Nimely, P. Saydee, M. Paye (C. Jackson, 57th minute).