Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt
WHEN Zimbabwe Warriors’ captain, Knowledge Musona, went on Twitter at the weekend to rally his men not to let their defeat at the hands of hosts Egypt in the 2019 AFCON finals game on Friday night, he probably didn’t expect this would provoke some of the brutal responses he received.
Including one, from a Twitter handle that goes with the single identity of Ishy, who accused the Smiling Assassin of being responsible for the loss against the Pharaohs, the hostile assessment probably built on the moment when Musona lost possession leading to the goal for the Egyptians.
“Wakatidyisa captain zuro, pull (up) your socks,’’ thundered Ishy, in response to Musona’s tweet in which the skipper declared, “Warriors never give up, we keep going until it’s right.’’
Musona’s appeal goes beyond the Zimbabwean borders and Rudolph Sekgowane, a South African, also joined into the debate accusing the captain of letting the Warriors down.
“You are the one who cost the team three points, you and (the) coach,’’ Sekgowane claimed. “Please, next time if you see that you don’t perform well, replace yourself because it looks like your coach is scared to (take) action . . .
“We want a win, not what you saying.’’
But Mologadi Kganyago, from Botswana, argued otherwise.
“I heard someone saying Knowdgy is finished after just one bad game, we argued about it, we all can have one bad game, but I do believe he will bounce back in the next game and score a brace, that’s my wish for him to silence critics,’’ he posted on Twitter.
That Musona had one of his quietest games for the Warriors, in that match against the Pharaohs, is beyond question and his problems were compounded by the fatal mistake, after he had drifted into defence, which gave the Pharaohs the chance to get the only goal of the match.
Musona’s fitness has been a concern going into this tournament and when we asked him last week about that, he revealed that while he wasn’t in his best possible shape, he was good enough to play for his country.
A domestic season in which he struggled to impose himself at Anderlecht and where his stay at the relegated Lokeren, on loan, was also blighted by injuries, wasn’t the best way for him to prepare for such a key tournament.
But, only those with short memories, the fake friends who only pop up when times are good and the sun is shining brightly, can turn their back on Musona and turn him into an effigy of ridicule simply because he didn’t sparkle in just one game.
In football, just like in life, setbacks are part of the game.
And, to turn our guns on Musona, after all that he has done to help transform the Warriors into the competitive team that they have become today, would be an outrageous insult to the power of reason and the value of history.
To expect Musona to be in top form, every time he plays for the Warriors, when even the great Mohamed Salah can be forced to have an off day, as was the case in that match against the Warriors, would be a flirtation with fantasy and an insult to the reality that even the best of athletes can have a bad day in the office.
To turn against the Smiling Assassin, and even ask that he be dropped from the squad completely as some are now saying, is ridiculous and while he should not be guaranteed a place in the team, his performance on Friday night wasn’t such a stinker to warrant such drastic action.
Musona is human, too, maybe his problem is that he has been superhuman for the Warriors for a long time.
Because, scoring six of the 10 goals for the team in the qualifiers was a demonstration of his pedigree and, at the end of the campaign, he could proudly lay claim to the title of being the finest hitman in the AFCON qualifiers during a golden period in which his goal-scoring spree has even eclipsed Sadio Mane and Salah.
It’s easy to forget.
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 hat-trick 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 .
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 seven 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.