15 June 2017

Zimbabwe/Liberia: Flying Warrior

Photo: The Herald
Knowledge Musona is becoming of Zimbabwe's best footballer.

Knowledge Musona 's landmark hat-trick against Liberia hasn't only propelled him to the top of the 2019 AFCON qualifying scoring charts, but has catapulted the Smiling Assassin to scale the grand heights of becoming the Nations Cup's most prolific goal-scorer in the past seven years.

The Warriors captain, who turns 27 next Wednesday, has now scored more goals than any other player in Africa's biggest football tournament since marking his Nations Cup debut with a goal against the Liberians in a 1-1 draw on September 5, 2010, in Monrovia.

He becomes the first Zimbabwean footballer to scale these heights after Agent Sawu's remarkable goal-scoring feats for the Dream Team, in the qualifiers for the '94 Nations Cup finals, were overshadowed by prolific Nigerian marksman Rashid Yekini.

Musona's milestone came in the same weekend when the free-scoring Ghanaian skipper Asamoah Gyan celebrated his entrance into the exclusive club of African footballers who have scored, at least, 50 goals for their countries.

The other members of that elite club are Zambian legendary forward Godfrey "Ucar" Chitalu who, sadly, perished in that plane crash off the coast of Gabon that wiped out a generation of Chipolopolo's finest footballers in April 1993, Egyptian superstar Hossam Hassan, Cameroonian legend Samuel Etoó and former Ivorian skipper Didier Drogba.

"I have scored a lot of goals as everyone knows but I will say the goal I scored against Somalia in 2003 is my memorable goal as it was my debut appearance for my country at the senior level," Gyan told ghanasoccernet.

Musona had been tied with Drogba, Malian forward Cheick Diabate and Burkina Faso forward Alain Traore on 10 Nations Cup goals, in the past seven years, until his superb hat-trick against the Lone Stars of Liberia propelled him top of the AFCON goal-scoring charts in the period under review.

Gyan has scored nine Nations Cup goals for the Black Stars, during that period, while Gabonese captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, winner of the German Bundesliga Golden Boot last season, has scored eight AFCON goals for his country.

Musona is the youngest member of that group of elite goal-scorers who have made a huge impression in the Nations Cup in the past seven years with Aubameyang, at 27, the second youngest while Traore (28), Diabate (29), Gyan (31) and the retired Drogba (39) are older.

Remarkably, Musona is also the only member of that group who has never been attached to Europe's biggest football clubs with Drogba starring for Chelsea and Marseille, Diabate playing for Bordeaux, Aubameyang starring for Dortmund and Gyan playing in the English Premiership at Sunderland.

Traore, the Burkina Faso forward, made the cut at Manchester United after starring for his country at the 2005 FIFA Under-20 World Cup but could not complete the deal to join the Red Devils because of work permit complications.

Musona's special achievements can also be put into proper context by the fact that, in that elite membership, he has the least number of games in the colours of his country and was just a mere 12-year-old school kid when Drogba started his international football with Cote d'Ivoire career in 2002, Gyan started representing the Black Stars in 2003, Diabate began playing for Mali in 2005, Traore started playing for Burkina Faso in 2006 and Aubameyang began his stint with Gabon on 2009.

Crucially, while others have featured regularly at the Nations Cup finals since Musona began his AFCON journey seven years ago, increasing their chances of getting more goals to their credit, the Smiling Assassin has only featured in 101 minutes of Nations Cup finals action in Gabon earlier this year.

Musona's has only played two AFCON finals matches, being pulled out early in the game against Algeria because of injury, and then playing for 89 minutes in the final group game against Tunisia, where he scored a beauty, in Gabon.

He didn't feature, at all, in the Warriors' 2015 Nations Cup qualifiers, which ended at the preliminary round stage after a shock defeat at the hands of Tanzania, while the others in that elite membership didn't only play six qualifiers but also played at the AFCON finals and thereby boosting their chances of increasing their goals' tally.

Musona only featured in three matches for the Warriors in the 2013 Nations Cup qualifiers, against Burundi, and scored in two of them against Burundi while, for example, someone like Traore scored two in the qualifiers and three at the AFCON finals.

The Warriors skipper also didn't feature at the 2012 Nations Cup finals, while all the other members of that elite group featured at that showcase, with Diabate scoring three goals at the finals while Aubameyang also scored three goals at the finals. Drogba retired from international football, at the age of 36, after the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil having represented his country in 104 matches and scored 63 goals.

But, between September 2010 when Musona made his AFCON debut to 2014 when Drogba finally called time on his international football career in 2014, the legendary Ivorian forward had featured in far more Nations Cup games than the new Zimbabwe captain.

After all, the Elephants finished as runners-up in the 2012 AFCON finals, and this meant that while Musona has played 16 AFCON games, since he started his adventure, Drogba had featured in 18 Nations Cup matches, between September 2010 and the time he quit international football.

Diabate and his Mali team finished third at the 2012 AFCON finals, third in the following tournament, were eliminated at the group stages of the 2015 Nations Cup finals and finished in 12th place at the 2017 AFCON finals which means he has featured in about twice as many matches compared to Musona during the same period under review.

Gyan's Black Stars finished fourth at the 2012 Nations Cup finals, fourth in 2013, second in 2015 and fourth at the 2017 AFCON finals and that has also given him far more games, to try and score goals in this tournament, compared to Musona.

Traore and his Burkinabe side were eliminated at the group stages of the 2012 AFCON finals, were runners-up at the 2013 AFCON finals in South Africa, fell at the group stage at the 2015 AFCON finals and finished in third place at the 2017 AFCON finals.

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