BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
WARRIORS captain Knowledge Musona is confident that the team will make the country proud at the Afcon finals despite missing a number of top players ahead of the Group B opener against giants Senegal at the Kouekong Stadium, Bafoussam in Cameroon tomorrow.
The premier football event which kicks off today is set to run until February 6.
Making their fifth appearance at the Afcon finals, the Warriors have never progressed beyond the Group stages of the tournament while they have also failed to claim three points in their first match since their debut in 2004.
And this time around a star-studded Senegal side offers the Warriors their first acid test in Cameroon in a group that also includes Guinea and Malawi.
“It’s unfortunate that we are missing some players who were with us during the qualifiers because of injuries and other issues, but I think we still have the quality to compete with any team. I definitely think that we are going to have a good tournament, especially with the preparations that we have done so far, and what we will still do in the remaining days,” Musona told Cafonline.
Notable players who are unavailable for Zimbabwe this time around include Marvelous Nakamba, Marshall Munetsi and Brendon Galloway while the star of the previous two tournaments Khama Billiat retired from international football two month ago.
The 31-year-old star reckons that the Warriors will benefit from being one of the first participating teams to travel to Cameroon as it has helped them to acclimatize to the conditions in that country.
“Coming in early was really important for us to be together for longer as a team, while we also acclimatize to the environment for those players who are based in places with different weather conditions.
“We still have more days to train, and we will be ready for our first game. I am confident that we will have a good tournament that will make the whole country proud,” he said.
The Warriors arrived in Cameroon on December 30, to prepare for the tournament camping in Yaounde before moving to their Bafoussam.
And on a personal level, Musona will be making a record third appearance at Afcon which he shares with teammates Tino Kadewere who plays for Olympique Lyon in France, US-based Teenage Hadebe and Supersport United winger Kudakwashe Mahachi.
The Zimbabwe captain who is in the twilight of his career is hoping for third time luck to help the country reach the knockout stages of the competition for the first time.
“I have already played at two AFCON finals without progressing to the knockout stages and doing it now will mean a lot to me as an individual and to the whole team, because it will be historic for every player. It’s an opportunity for us to show that we can perform at big tournaments like AFCON,” said Musona.
Coach Norman Mapeza revealed that the technical team has been working more on the psychology of the players as well as sharpness ahead of the Senegal tie.
“The training session was brilliant. The guys are working hard and I am happy. The guys are really pushing and their attitude is good. My prayer is that we do not get any injuries as we are left with just three days before the first game,” said Mapeza.
“I just hope that everybody will be ready by the time we play against Senegal. It’s all about the psychological part of the game, and we have been working on it. So far so good,” he said after Friday’s training session.
“The friendly match we played against Sudan gave us a clear picture of where we are coming from and where we are going. In terms of fitness, I am more than happy, we lacked a bit of sharpness but that’s what we have been working on.
“Everything is falling into place. I am more than grateful to the government. They gave us this opportunity to come here early and acclimatise,” he said.
Zimbabwe play Malawi on January 14 before concluding group matches with a tie against Guinea on January 20.
Zimbabwe’s 23-man squad for the 2021 CAF Africa Cup of Nations:
Goalkeepers: Petros Mhari (FC Platinum), Martin Mapisa (FC Zamora, Spain), Talbert Shumba (Free State Stars, South Africa)
Defenders: Peter Muduwa (Highlanders), Alec Mudimu (Torpedo Kutaisi, Georgia), Takudzwa Chimwemwe (Nkana, Zambia), Jordan Zemura (FC Bournemouth, England), Godknows Murwira, Gerald Takwara (Venda Football Academy, South Africa), Teenage Hadebe (Houston Dynamo, USA), Bruce Kangwa (Azam, Tanzania), Onismor Bhasera (SuperSport United, South Africa)
Midfielders: Kelvin Madzongwe (FC Platinum), Thabani Kamusoko (Zesco United, Zambia), Never Tigere (Azam, Tanzania), Ishmael Wadi (JDR Stars, South Africa), Kudakwashe Mahachi (SuperSport United, South Africa), Kundai Benyu (Vestri, Iceland)
Strikers: Admiral Muskwe (Luton Town, England), Prince Dube (Azam, Tanzania), David Moyo (Hamilton Academia, Scotland), Knowledge Musona (Al-Tai, Saudi Arabia), Tinotenda Kadewere (Olympique Lyon, France)