BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
INSPIRATIONAL Zimbabwe skipper Knowledge Musona hopes he will be given a birthday gift to remember by his teammates when the Warriors open their campaign at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals with a date against hosts Egypt at the Cairo International Stadium on June 21.
Musona, whose goals inspired the Warriors to their second successive qualification for the continental showpiece, will celebrate his 29th birthday on the same day the Warriors will attempt to cause a huge upset by upstaging the Mohamed Salah-led Pharaohs.
The Belgium-based forward opened up for the first time on the remarkable coincidence, which resulted in Zimbabwe’s opening fixture at the tournament being scheduled on his big day, describing it as a blessing.
“It feels good that we will play our first match against Egypt on the same day I will be celebrating my birthday,” Musona told Standard Sport in an exclusive interview on Friday.
“I actually feel it’s a blessing for my first Afcon game [at this year’s tournament] to be scheduled on my birthday. It’s not always the case that my birthday comes on the same day as something that is important to me like this tournament. I think everyone always hopes for a perfect gift and for me it came early — which is actually us qualifying for Afcon and playing our first game on the 21st,” Musona said.
The Smiling Assassin, as Musona is affectionately known, will be making his second appearance at the Afcon finals in Egypt next month after leading the Warriors to the showcase by helping them finish top of their qualifying group.
During the campaign, Musona underlined his growing status as one of the continent’s leading marksmen after finishing third on the top goal scorers list with five goals, two behind Nigerian forward Odion Ighalo (7) and one shy of Burundi striker Fiston Abdul Razzak.
Musona finished ahead of Liverpool superstar and reigning African Footballer of the Year Salah, who ended the campaign with four goals.
The 28-year-old forward, who spent the last few months at SC Lokeren, on loan from fellow Belgian top-flight side Anderlecht, said the Warriors were eager to make their presence felt at the Afcon finals as they seek to progress from the group stages for the first time.
The Warriors are in Group A, which also features the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.
“I think it’s a fair group although tough because all the teams are very strong. Our target is to go and give it 100%. We aim to fight to the finish as challenging as it may seem, l believe we are stronger together and if we support each other and play as one, we can achieve our goals as a team. Personally, my target is always to give maximum effort and play my best not only for me, but for my country,” he said.
The upcoming Afcon finals will also have extra significance for Musona as he could match Warriors legend Peter Ndlovu’s record as the highest Zimbabwean goal-scorer at the tournament if he scores two goals in Egypt.
Musona scored one goal in his only appearance at the 2017 Afcon finals in Gabon, where his participation was limited by injury.
After missing the team’s opening two matches against Algeria and Senegal due to injury, Musona returned for the final group match against Tunisia and scored a sublime goal, but could not prevent the Warriors from slumping to a 2-4 defeat.
The free-scoring Zimbabwe skipper could match Ndlovu’s record if he can score two more goals in Egypt.
The legendary Ndlovu scored all his three goals at the Warriors’ maiden Nations Cup finals show in Tunisia before failing to score at the 2006 finals in Egypt.