The Sunday Mail
AS the Warriors continue to sift through the debris of their ignominious exit from the 2022 World Cup qualifying race, skipper Knowledge Musona has demanded that ZIFA and the players change the way they approach tournament football.
A lot had been expected from Musona’s generation — dubbed the golden generation — but they faltered in Group G that included Ghana, Ethiopia and South Africa.
For all the hype and expectations that greeted the World Cup qualifying draw, the Warriors just have a point and a goal in four matches.
Speaking from his base in Saudi Arabia, Musona told The Sunday Mail Sport that he felt and understood the pain and anguish being suffered by fans.
The 31-year-old talismanic forward now wants the Warriors to use the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament in Cameroon in January to atone for their disappointing campaign.
He emphasised the need for his troops to be quick off the blocks.
In all four previous AFCON tournaments they have been to, Zimbabwe have been guilty of being slow starters.
Under hapless Croatian coach Zdravko “Loga’’ Logarusic, the Warriors found themselves getting off to a poor start that put paid to their hopes of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
This followed a listless 0-0 home draw with an experimental South African side and a surprise 1-0 defeat away to Ethiopia, which eventually cost Loga the job he had been perilously hanging onto despite setting the record for the longest winless run by any Warriors coach.
Former skipper Norman Mapeza was then recalled to try and rescue the sinking ship.
However, back-to-back defeats to Ghana in the Cape Coast and in Harare ended any hopes Musona and his troops had of fighting to be among the five African teams in Qatar in December next year.
“It is understandable that everyone is disappointed because we lost and we are now out of the race, but, to be honest, the only thing that went wrong is that we didn’t take points when we were supposed to,” Musona said.
“We lost very important points in the first and second game, and that kind of bad start is not good.
“I think it was the first thing that went wrong outside of the administration and everything that was happening.”
He, however, preferred to focus on on-field aspects of the game.
“I want to speak on the football side and not what happens kuma offices uko (on the administrative side).
“Everything went wrong the moment we failed to win the first two games because those were supposed to give us the direction and the focus to fight for qualifying to the World Cup.
“It is normal that people speak after such disappointments, but we learn from all this and we just have to take this opportunity to use these remaining games to prepare for AFCON.”
Musona believes the Warriors have to strive to overcome their jinx of not going beyond the group stage at AFCON.
“The major lesson that we have learnt is that we have to try and collect maximum points from the beginning, not later ahead because in a tournament like AFCON in Cameroon, we cannot be saying, yah, we will recover in the second or third game. There is no time; we have to get going from the start . . .
“It also gives us an advantage to go through from the group stage if we start strongly,’’ he said.
The former Kaizer Chiefs hitman also spoke about their forgettable 2019 AFCON in Egypt, where the Warriors hogged the limelight for the wrong reasons.
They only managed a 1-1 draw with Uganda.
In fact, the Warriors, who spent days haggling with ZIFA, came close to being withdrawn from the tournament by a frustrated association president Felton Kamambo.
“I think the main issue in Egypt was about money, so I think if everything that has to do with money and all is fixed, we will go for far in this tournament.
“If you look at all the meetings we were having every now and then in Egypt, it was about money. Is our money paid?
“Where is our money? Is our money going to be paid?
“Everyone was talking about money, money, money, and not focussing on football, and that’s why we got distracted.”
The Al-Ta’ee striker backed the Warriors to finally clear the group stage in Cameroon.
“So I think if this issue (player welfare) is fixed, we will go far in this tournament because for some of us, these are our last tournaments in the national team . . . So if that is fixed, I think we will be good to go and compete against the best because we know and we believe in ourselves,” he said.
Musona reckons that the return of Mapeza as coach bodes well for their mission to conquer Africa.
The FC Platinum gaffer might have got off to a losing start with the Warriors but the Warriors’ captain says signs of improvement after he took over are apparent.
“Already, in these past two games, people have seen that the coach tried to play differently from the previous coach and it is coming up.
“Because we know what the coach wants and we know him from before, we will adapt quickly and we are professionals.
“Having a new coach happens in every team, even in the national team, but understanding the coach’s philosophy is not a problem because we have worked with him before . . .
“We just need a little bit more time with him to correct the mistakes or misunderstandings that were happening in the games.”
Musona pleaded for Mapeza to be given more time.
“Without looking at the results, I think we played really well.
“So we just need to continue and try to understand more quickly because in the national team, you don’t get much time together, so we have to adapt very quickly so that we hit the ground running.”
The ex-TSG Hoffenheim and Augsburg forward also challenged the Warriors to remain focussed on their own preparations and avoid being intimidated or pressured by what would be going in their opponents’ camps.
“The main focus is for us to do what we want to do when we get to the tournament . . .
“It is now up ZIFA, and not only ZIFA, but the whole country to help and prepare us to go with good resources and well prepared and stress-free, and show what we can do.”
Life in Saudi Arabia
After stints with Anderlecht, KV Oostende, Lokeren and KAS Eupen in Belgium, Musona has since moved from Europe to Asia.
He insists football is similarly competitive in Saudi Arabia.
“I have settled very well in Saudi Arabia. It is a very strong league and I like it here.
“It is very professional. The only difference is the culture, but football-wise, I put it high up there with Europe and South Africa.
“There is no difference but it is just that the culture and the lifestyle is different from Europe, but in terms of football, it is one of the best leagues in Asia, and one of the teams from here is playing in the Asian Champions League final, and that shows that is a very good league,” he said.
“I hope to play for more years here. The people here really love their football: they are very passionate; they support their teams whether they lose or win.”
The Warriors talisman, who signed an initial two-year deal with Al-Ta’ee, has not disappointed for his new club.
“So far I have scored two goals in seven matches, hopefully many more are coming.”
Zimbabwe will also be hoping that Musona will not have a goal drought at the next AFCON.