The national senior men’s team will be looking to make history when they appear at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in Egypt, which kicks off on June 29.
The Warriors are in Group A together with Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda. The Sunday Chidzambga-coached team, who will be looking to progress beyond the group stages for the first time, will begin their campaign with a tough match against the hosts on June 21, in the tournament’s opener.
The Warriors played in the Cosafa Cup tournament in Durban, South Africa, a tourney they used as part of their preparations for the Afcon finals. Last night they played against Nigeria in a warm-up match before proceeding to Cairo.
StandardSport senior sports reporter Henry Mhara (HM) caught up with Warriors captain Knowledge Musona (KM) for an interview in Durban, where they discussed many issues, including the team’s preparations, their targets at Afcon, his uncertain future at his club Anderlecht, playing together with sibling Walter, who received his first Warriors call-up for this camp, and many other issues.
HM: You can start by telling me the team’s preparations as you build towards the Afcon finals.
KM: So far, everything is good and we are looking forward to each and every day at training. Everyone is trying to give his best and being serious in each and every training session that we are doing.
ND: What’s the target for the team at Afcon?
KM: We want to go there, play good and try to pass the group stages. It will not be easy to pass the group stages, but as a team we have our goals, and we want to go further and further in the competition. It’s something that the players are thinking about, so it’s a big challenge ahead of us, but we believe that we are going to achieve our goals. With the players that we have in this squad and the quality that is in the team, we can beat anyone in the group and go further. We know people are counting us out, we are the underdogs, and we like it like that way. It is motivating us and we want to show that there are no big or small teams in world football nowadays. The games in the Champions League in the just-ended season showed us that, when teams like Ajax shocked the world, so I believe we are going to also do the same. That is what I want as the captain to lead the team as we try to go as far as possible in the tournament.
HM: You spoke about the team’s goals at Afcon, but as an individual, what are your personal targets at the tournament?
KM: To play well and try to help the team and see how far we can go. As a striker obviously, I want to score goals and do well for myself. You never know who might be watching the games, so I will try my best if ever I’m given the chance to play.
HM: The competition for places in the team is tough, particularly in forward positions. How difficult is it to secure a place in the first 11?
KM: Personally, I feel that people should not have permanent places in the team. No one should feel secure and comfortable when it comes to getting into the team. There should be this kind of competition so that people do not relax and it also makes training exciting because players will be fighting and trying to show the coaches that I deserve to play because only 11 players are selected to play. It’s a good thing to have, and I hope it’s always like that going forward…. people have to work and fight hard to get selected into the team. That would give the coaches a good selection headache, and we are assured that the best players will play for the national team. I also hope that players come to the national team every time they are called, and not to choose games.
HM: You have led this squad to two consecutive Afcon finals and some people have dubbed the team “The Magnificent Golden Generation”. Do you think this best
describes the current Warriors team?
KM: I believe everyone who participated, played and represented the country at every level in the national team is golden. Even though some national teams did not achieve as much as we did, I want to believe that they were also good in their own right. It’s not always easy to represent the country, play and win, and make the nation happy, so to say that we are the only golden generation would be unfair to the teams before us who put a good foundation for us. We are all special and golden, no need to make others more special because they achieved something. Wearing the national team jersey and to defend the nation is golden on its own.
HM: Let’s talk about your club career. You have had a frustrating start to your club career at Anderlecht, but you have a chance for a restart under new
manager Vincent Kompany, who is joining next season. Are you looking forward to work with the former Manchester City captain?
KM: At the moment, I’m not thinking about it (returning to Anderlecht). I will think about it after the Afcon. Last year I did not play that much and honestly I wasted a year of my playing career. I did not enjoy because of the way I was treated at the club. When you are a football player and you go in a team and you are not being given a chance, it’s always difficult to look forward to the next season because you don’t know what the people are planning for you. That is something I have to think hard about after the Afcon. At the moment it is my time to enjoy playing for the national team where people appreciate and love me… where they value me, where I play with a free spirit and a free mind because I know that people from my country love me when I play for the national team.
It’s always good to play when you feel that people love you when you play for them, and playing for the national team are moments that I can safely say I feel proud of when I come and wear the jersey because there is not much criticism. There would be criticism, but it’s 90% people loving me against 10%. Where I’m playing now (at Anderlecht), it’s vice-versa, so its something that I’m thinking about like is it good for me to go back there and look forward to the new season or look for another club because I may never know what they have planned for me for the next season? Like I said, I have to think about it after the Afcon, but for now, this is my happy place.
HM: From what you have said, it appears you are done with Anderlecht, so are you considering moving to another club? Have you received any offers so far?
KM: I haven’t received any offers as yet because the window just opened and also when I left the season had just ended so we will see what happens. It’s a long way to go. I believe if I go to Afcon and play good football for the national team, then the doors will open and other good opportunies may come. That is when I will have to take a decision whether I want to stay or if they want me to stay there, or to move on. I will have to decide what is going to happen.”
HM: You have scored 22 goals in 34 appearances for the Warriors and chasing the scoring record of 38 goals scored by the legendary Peter Ndlovu in 100 games. How proud is Knowledge Musona of this achievement, and do you see yourself surpassing the record?
KM: I was talking about it with some teammates a few days ago. I have read about it, but to be honest I have never really counted how many goals I have scored for the national team, so I don’t know if I’m the only one chasing that record or there is someone who has scored more goals than me. It would be nice though to break the record, but I always put my country first, try to play to my best ability, score goals and make assists to help the team win… So, whatever happens will be a bonus for me because I’m already proud of what I have done so far and what I know is that I always play my heart out for this team. The most important thing for me is to help the team win, whether I score or not. I just want to score goals for the team until I decide to stop playing and I don’t know how many I will score.
HM: Your younger brother Walter Musona is in camp, and this is the first time you have been called for the national team together. How proud are you as the big brother?
KM: It’s his first time to be called to the senior national team and it’s the first time in a very long time that we have brothers in the team. It’s a proud moment for our family and for both of us. It’s always nice to play with your brother in the same team. Unfortunately, he got injured on his first day at training so he is not playing, but it was going to be really nice to play and celebrate our achievement with him. But it’s not a big worry because he is still young and he has time on his side I’m sure in the next assignments he will be called up and we will meet and be able to play together.
HM: You have obviously pulled him aside for some advice… what was your message to him?
KM: To be honest, we haven’t discussed anything with him at this moment, but he knows already what I want of him. I have always told him that he has to work hard, to be disciplined all the time, and to believe in himself. I have told him that he is a very good player who can play at the top level if he is serious and works hard. So we haven’t really spoken about it, but football-wise, he knows what I demand of him.
ND: Some people say that Walter is riding on Knowledge’s fame. Do you agree?
KM: If it was true, then he was supposed to be called to the national team a very long time ago. To say that he is using my name would be wrong because I feel he is talented and deserves to be here. People who say that just don’t like him, but I think the coaches have seen something in him and I believe they pick players on merit. They felt this was the right moment for him to join the national team, that is why he is here. It’s the coaches that picked him, and not the other way round, so if there is any criticism on his selection, it should go to the coaches.
HM: We are in Group A together with the hosts Egypt, DRC and Uganda. What’s your take of this group?
KM: A tough group to be honest, but one we are comfortable with. We knew we would get something like this, so mentally we are prepared. We now have to prepare other aspects so that we will match our opponents, and try to do our best to achieve our goals. Like I said, we will start as underdogs in the group, but we are ready and we might shock the world. Egypt as the hosts will be tough, but we will fight hard and try to get a result. We have played DRC in the qualifiers and you all saw what we are capable of doing. But we can’t go with the mentality that we have beaten them before. This is a new game altogether, and we know they have very good players. There is also Uganda, who have been doing well of late, so it will be very interesting to see how the games will go.
HM: Mo Salah?
KM: Agh (giggles). He is just a normal football player, and we are not really scared of him. He is one of the 11 players that Egypt will field and he will play against 11 players. I believe that if we play well, according to the coach’s instruction, then we are going to shoot down everybody, whether him or any other superstars at the tournament. Personally I believe in team work, and playing rather than talking. We might put all our focus on him, and then he won’t be in form. We migh be busy chasing him, and open space for his other teammates to destroy us, so we are going to be tactical and prepare for a match against Egypt, and not against Salah. We will not look at any individual, but to fight and try to win the match. We are not worried a lot about him. Admittedly, he is a good player and a good goal scorer, but we won’t put all our attention on him. For us, it will be a match to enjoy because it is not every day we get such kind of opportunity to play against high-profile players. It also motivates us because we aspire to play at his level so we are looking forward to meet him.