Robson Sharuko in Cairo, Egypt
ZIMBABWE captain Knowledge Musona says his Warriors are relishing the massive challenge of taking on hosts and favourites Egypt in the first match of the Afcon finals to show the world how far they have evolved in the past few years into a very competitive team.
The talismanic skipper even believes his men can make history at this Nations Cup finals.
There has been concern, among some of their fans, that the Warriors have been handed the ultimate toughest assignment where, a comprehensive defeat at the hands of the Pharaohs, could crush their confidence and signal the beginning of the end of their campaign.
The Warriors have never had it easy in the opening match of the Nations Cup finals, as they have played the Pharaohs in 2004, Senegal in 2006, Algeria in 2017 and now the same Egyptians in this tournament, which gets underway here on Friday night.
They have lost two of those three matches; all those matches going down 1-2 to the Pharaohs in Tunisia, 2-0 to the Lions of Teranga of Senegal here in 2006 and holding the Desert Foxes of Algeria to a 2-2 draw in Gabon two years ago.
Musona believes his men could not have wished for a better opening match than one against the Pharaohs, with the whole world watching.
“With the confidence that I have as the team captain, and also the confidence I have in the players, I think that we can go past the group stages,” he told our Harare Bureau on Sunday.
‘‘It doesn’t matter whom we play in the first game; we know it’s going to be a big game, strong opponents, opening game and they almost never lose at home, we know it’s a tough game.
“But, we are also ready, as underdogs, to show the country and the world that we are not here to just make up the numbers, but to fight and show what we are capable of.”
Musona’s fitness has been a concern after his season in Belgium was blighted by injuries and some analysts have been saying he did not play the Cosafa Cup matches at full throttle.
Ironically, he was pulled out early in the first game in Gabon two years ago and replaced by Matthew Rusike because of a recurrent injury which then kept him out of the second match.
“I can say from the last time that I played an official match, the training I have had and some matches I have played, I think I am okay for the tournament,” he said.
“It has been a while and I have not heard a very good season at club level, but I know what I am capable of and I know even though I am not as 100 percent as I would like to be, the team that we have, we always fight for each other and I believe that I am going to play.
“From the first game of the qualifiers, we had a good team. The good thing is the coaches maintained the same team, since we started, I believe we know each other and we know how we function on the field of play and we fight for each other.
“We don’t show that the others have made mistakes during the game and we always tell ourselves that we win as a team and we lose as a team so this has kept us going for quite a long time and now we really understand each other and we know what we want, we know our mission from the first game.
“This, itself, gives us the advantage to go as a team and achieve results like we did in the qualifiers and we are strong there because some teams, for example, if you look at DRC, when we beat them in DRC, they didn’t play as a team, we went there and we played as a team.
“Almost every game we played, we were fighting for each other and this is what makes a good team and that’s where we are now and we believe that if we stick like this and keep pushing, we are going to make history.”
He believes the victory over DRC in Kinshasa was a game changer for these Warriors.
“The victory in Kinshasa was very crucial, from that moment we had an advantage in points, in the sense that, from that day, we started to really believe, if we had lost one of those games, it would have been difficult for us to top the group,” he said.
“It was very difficult to win that match and it gave us an advantage, taking four points from DRC, no one expected that we were going to take four points from DRC, also that we would win there in Kinshasa and when we did it, it gave us the confidence that we have the quality that we can beat any team if we play as a group.”
The Pharaohs of Egypt wait in ambush on Friday night.