Grace Chingoma, Harare Bureau
WARRIORS’ captain Knowledge Musona is confident that the senior national soccer team has prepared enough to dream of securing a place in the last 16 when the Africa Cup of Nations gets underway in Egypt next Friday.
Zimbabwe will play the hosts, the Pharaohs, in the opening match on Friday evening.
Musona believes there is quality in the Warriors team which has the potential to make history by becoming the first Zimbabwean soccer team to go past the group stages.
Speaking to our Harare Bureau from Cairo, Egypt, yesterday, the Warriors skipper said they are aware of the huge expectations back home as Zimbabwe feature at the Afcon finals for the fourth time.
The Anderlecht striker goes into this year’s Nations Cup after a subdued season by his standards.
He struggled for game time with the former Belgian champions and had to be loaned to Lokeren, who were eventually relegated.
But “the Smiling Assassin”, who has always delivered when in the Warriors colours, said he is ready to give his best for the nation as he has usually done by scoring crucial goals.
“I am very focused and raring to go, the setbacks happened during the season and it’s in the past. I am looking forward and not thinking about club football.
“I am here to fight for my country with people who cherish and love me and I am ready to give them my best and that’s the best thing you can give back to people who support you,” said Musona.
He said the Warriors, who arrived in Egypt last Sunday, are ready for their opening Group A match against Egypt at the Cairo International Stadium.
Zimbabwe had probably their longest camp after taking part in the Cosafa Cup before flying to Nigeria where they played the Super Eagles in an international friendly match last weekend.
“We are ready and everyone in the team is working hard each day to keep improving physically, tactically and mentally before our first game.
“We are confident because these days there are no big teams in Africa. Anyone can win in any match so with the quality in the team that we have, anything is possible.
“I believe in everyone selected so am very confident that we are going to make it and make history,” Musona said.
Musona believes the new format at the enlarged Africa Cup of Nations finals has come with improved opportunities. The tournament will for the first time feature 24 teams.
The top two teams in the group phase and the four best third-placed teams will advance to the round of 16.
“I believe the chances are high to go to knockout stages, you might find out that three teams from one group might go through so it’s better, it’s a bit easy, ” said Musona.
With Zimbabwe featuring in the opening match against the hosts Egypt, there is added pressure since the opening match of any tournament is closely followed and watched by multitudes of people.
But the Belgium-based midfielder believes that in itself is a motivating factor.
“We feel motivated and ready because it’s the first game against the hosts. So we need to let them know from the first minute that we are present.
“Many people believe we are underdogs and we like it like that way because we know what we are capable of.
“So we are going to approach this game the same way we did in every game of our road to Afcon or even more because everyone will be watching back home and around the world.
“We don’t want to disappoint our fellow Zimbabweans and all those supporting us. We can’t wait,” said Musona.
The Zimbabwe national team are now also being closely followed in the UK by clubs such as Nottingham Forest and CEFN Druids where some of their players are based.
Tendayi Darikwa and Alec Mudimu are among the players who would be making their national team bow at the Afcon finals in Egypt.
And the Warriors skipper Musona feels that the experience acquired by the handful players who were at the 2017 edition of the same competition in Gabon will also come in handy for the entire team.
“We have to make sure we don’t concede a lot of goals and give away our lead, like we did in the first game of 2017, or miss chances that come our way. It may help us when we tie on points with teams from other groups. Goals will play a big role.
“But I am sure we had a good campaign and we want to take it all the way to the tournament as our strong point and have better performance compared to the previous Afcon,” said Musona.
Turning to the funds which were raised by the Warriors Fundraising Committee in which the President Mnangagwa unveiled a Government package of US$200 000 and an additional $300 000, Musona said the whole team was grateful.
“We would like to say big thank you to our President and everyone who was involved in raising the funds.
“It shows how important representing our country is and we are grateful.
“We never had issues with money, we work at the same time asking what we deserve. That’s how it should be because we can never recover the day we boycott if there is no money.
“We are even more motivated because of that and now our full focus is to go and play football and achieve the goals we have for this tournament,” said Musona.
Musona also had a special message for the soccer-loving Zimbabweans.
“We are pleading with the nation to support us in good or bad times. Let’s show love and support to our team. It keeps us going strong if we know we have support back home.
“If possible, we want to see you all in Egypt to support us (chuckles).
“As the captain of this amazing team we want to promise you that we will do our best to represent our country and to make you all Zimbabweans proud,” said Musona.