Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
AS the sun begins to set on this decade, Knowledge Musona can now proudly lay claim to the title of being the finest hitman in the AFCON qualifiers during this golden period in which his goal-scoring spree has even eclipsed the Liverpool deadly duo of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
The 28-year-old Smiling Assassin has been a phenomenon in the colours of his Warriors, with a remarkable record-breaking goal-scoring rampage, unmatched by anyone who has worn the team’s shirt over the same number of years, in the Nations Cup qualifiers.
His superhuman efforts have been central in transforming the Warriors from a second-rate team into a ruthlessly efficient team that has now topped its group in back-to-back qualifiers and can march into cauldrons like Kinshasa and win there.
While a number of other players, including but not limited to Khama Billiat, George Chigova, Teenage Hadebe, Alec Mudimu and Marshall Munetsi, have played influential roles in the campaigns, Musona has been the heart and soul of these Warriors, their fearless and inspirational pride male.
Such has been his massive impact that, as a comprehensive analysis carried out by this newspaper shows, the Warriors have tended to lose, or fail to win, the matches he has been missing in action for one reason or another, including a period when he withdrew his services, after a spectacular fall-out with the ZIFA leadership under Cuthbert Dube.
Former ZIFA chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze had bizarrely accused the forward of alleged involvement in match-fixing and, after Musona’s lawyers demanded an apology for him to return into the Warriors fold, Dube told Star FM the footballer could go to hell because he wasn’t special.
“The issue of Knowledge Musona, I don’t know why people are concerned with this,” said Dube.
“It’s his personal choice, it’s his personal decision, you cannot force a person to join a national team, it’s entirely up to him.
“And we are saying we have got hundreds and hundreds of players in the country and, honestly, a team is made up of 11 players and not one player and it’s not going to affect us, at all.’’
Seven years later, Dube has been proved, beyond any reasonable doubt, that he was either dreaming, which would be a very kind testimony to his romance with fantasy, or he had possibly lost his mental faculties, which probably is the best description of his flirtation with madness.
Because, as our comprehensive analysis will reveal, Musona has been a gift from the heavens for these Warriors, the ultimate national team player, who might struggle at club level, but transforms himself into a raging bull when it comes to serving his country.
And the statistics, from the day he made his international debut on March 3, 2010, in a friendly international against Malawi, to the insurance goal he scored in the 2-0 win over Congo-Brazzaville on Sunday to confirm the Warriors place at the 2019 AFCON finals, tell a powerful and beautiful story:
For 10 years, between July 2004, when they beat Rwanda 2-0 in Kigali in an AFCON/World Cup qualifier, and May 2014, when they were eliminated from the 2015 AFCON finals by Tanzania in a preliminary battle, the Warriors played 17 away games in these two huge tournaments, lost 13, drew four, and only Musona scored in those games on the road.
The Warriors failed to score in 10 of those matches, during that period, while scored only more than one goal in two games against Algeria and Namibia, and between 2010 and May 2014, Musona was the only player for them to score in away matches in World Cup/AFCON qualifiers with four goals in nine matches.
Musona opened the scoring for the Warriors in the 2019 AFCON qualifiers, with his hattrick against Liberia, becoming the first captain of the side to score three goals in a Nations Cup qualifier, and closed the scoring for the team with that second goal against Congo-Brazzaville on Sunday.
Since making his Warriors debut at the age of 18 years, eight months and 10 days, Musona has made 18 appearances for this country in AFCON qualifiers, scored 14 goals, provided three assists, received one yellow card, one red card and featured in 1 566 minutes.
Mane, the Senegalese superstar, made his international debut on May 25, 2012, at 20 years, one month and 15 days and has made 18 appearances in AFCON qualifiers, exactly the same number as Musona, scored just five goals, nine less than the Smiling Assassin, in his 1465 minutes for the Lions of Teranga.
The Liverpool star has 16 World Cup appearances for his country and four goals while, at the AFCON finals, he has played five times for Senegal and scored two goals.
Salah made his international debut on September 3, 2011, when he was 19 years, two months and 19 days and has featured in 19 AFCON qualifiers, scored 14 goals, provided six assists in 1 685 minutes with a further two goals in six Nations Cup finals matches.
While Salah has scored the same number of goals as Musona, in the AFCON qualifiers, the Liverpool star has played one more match than the Warriors skipper and also played 62 minutes more than the Smiling Assassin.
Salah has also featured in four World Cup qualifiers, 357 minutes of action, scoring two goals and has two appearances at the AFCON finals where he has scored one goal.
When Musona made his debut against Malawi in that friendly international on March 3, 2010, his teammates were goalkeeper Edmore Sibanda, Gilbert Mapemba, Method Mwanjali, George Karimupfumbi, Daniel Veremu, Ashley Rambanapasi, Thabani Kamusoko, Farai Vimisayi, Nyasha Mushekwi and Tafadzwa Rusike.
On Sunday, he was the only man standing from those 11 players fielded that day while Sibanda was the only one, from that group, still with interests in the national team as he was on the bench against Congo Brazzaville.
In the current 2019 AFCON qualifiers, Musona scored five goals, Salah was on target four times while Mane did not find the target.
KNOWLEDGE MUSONA, AFCON QUALIFIERS RECORD
18 appearances, 14 goals, three assists 1 566 minutes
SADIO MANE, AFCON QUALIFIERS RECORD
18 appearances, 5 goals, 4 assists, six yellow cards, 4 506 minutes
MOHAMED SALAH AFCON QUALIFIERS RECORD
19 appearances, 14 goals, six assists, 1 628 minutes
MUSONA, ALL THE GOALS, ALL THE OPPONENTS, AFCON QUALIFIERS
September 5, 2010 – Liberia 1, Zim 1 (Musona x 1 goal)
June 5, 2011 – Zim 2, Mali 1 (Musona x 2 goals)
October 8, 2011 – Cape Verde 2, Zim 1 (Musona x 1 goal)
February 29, 2012 – Burundi 2, Zim 1 (Musona x 1 goal)
June 16, 2012 – Zim 1, Burundi 0 (Musona x 1 goal)
September 16, 2015 – Zim 1, Guinea 1 (Musona x 1 goal)
March 28, 2016 – Zim 4, Swaziland 0 (Musona x 1 goal)
June 5, 2016 – Zim 3, Malawi 0 (Musona x 1 goal)
June 11, 2017 – Zim 3, Liberia 0 (Musona x 3)
October 13, 2018 – DRC 1, Zim 2 (Musona x 1 goal)
March 24, 2018 – Zim 2, Congo 1 (Musona x 1 goal)