Ray of hope as Musona recovers

BATTLE ROYALE . . . Zimbabwe captain Willard Katsande (right) is shadowed by his Senegalese counterpart Cheikhou Kouyate during their 2017 Nations Cup finals Group B match in Franceville on Thursday night. — AFP

BATTLE ROYALE . . . Zimbabwe captain Willard Katsande (right) is shadowed by his Senegalese counterpart Cheikhou Kouyate during their 2017 Nations Cup finals Group B match in Franceville on Thursday night. — AFP

Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor—
IN the cloud of darkness that enveloped the Warriors camp following their defeat by Senegal, a ray of hope filtered through with news that talismanic striker Knowledge Musona has made significant progress towards recovery and is closer to being fit again to face Tunisia on Monday. The Warriors face the Carthage Eagles in their final Group B assignment at the Stade de l’Amitié in Libreville on Monday night, the same time that group leaders Senegal will square off against third-placed Algeria in Franceville.

And, after an indifferent show against Senegal on Thursday night, the Warriors now need nothing sort of a victory over Tunisia while also hoping that the Teranga Lions hand them a huge favour by keeping their 100 percent record intact with a win over Algeria.

Those hopes have been boosted by the pace at which Musona has been healing with team doctor Nicholas Munyonga confirming from Libreville yesterday that the KV Oostende striker has resumed light training and is being closely monitored.

“There has been significant progress towards recovery for him. The scan that was done did not show any tear. We remain hopeful that he will be able to play on Monday as he has since started light training under observation.

“He started the light training on Wednesday,’’ Munyonga said.

Musona lasted just 12 minutes of action in the opening game against Algeria, which the Warriors drew 2-2 with the striker limping off following a right hamstring injury.

In his absence, the Warriors have clearly struggled in their attack where coach Callisto Pasuwa has seen the forwards fail to put away the chances that come their way.

The Warriors also seemed to struggle to find someone to turn to when Khama Billiat was frozen out by the big Senegalese defenders and Musona’s imminent return could provide a refreshing attacking prowess that Pasuwa’s men badly need.

As the Warriors flew into Libreville late yesterday afternoon for their final group game, Pasuwa challenged his players to rise from the disappointment of their timid performance against Senegal and fight for their lives in the must win match against Tunisia.

Pasuwa, who has also been doing a lot of soul searching, said while they were disappointed by their game against Senegal, the Warriors needed to quickly put that nightmarish encounter behind them and focus on the last group assignment.

The 46-year-old coach insisted that the match against Senegal “was just a bad day in the office’’ and not a reflection of their battling qualities and pedigree.

“We were punished for the mistakes that we made in the first few minutes and after that we panicked badly.

“But I have been telling them that we just have to pick ourselves up and fight harder for our next game.

“I have told them to keep believing in ourselves. We can’t suddenly be bad a team overnight,’’ said Pasuwa.

The former Dynamos coach said his side had “learnt the hard way’’ and would return to action on Monday, a much better outfit.

Team manager Sharif Mussa also weighed in with the chorus to psyche the players and rallied them to show character by turning disappointment into joy in their next assignment.

“It was a tough match. It was unfortunate that we conceded early and that unsettled us especially the second goal coming so soon after the first one. We only settled late.

“Now we must up the tempo in all areas and stay focused and make sure we convert our chances when we play Tunisia,’’ Mussa said.

Although they are in dire need of win against the Carthage Eagles, the Warriors would also have to be more compact against the Tunisians who forced their way back into the reckoning with a 2-1 win over Algeria earlier on Thursday.

While the Warriors lost their tactical discipline against Senegal, they would also need the right mental strength when they face Tunisia and Pasuwa’s men would have to relive some of the basics that formed their solid show against Algeria — teamwork.

The Senegalese also taught them a lesson or two about team effort with the way the Teranga Lions executed their transition and utilised a turnover of possession and in the end statistics showed they had 58 percent share of the ball and 24 attempts with nine of the shots on target while the Warriors managed just three on target.

Senegal striker Mame Biram Diouf noted as much when telling BBC that unlike in previous campaigns the Class of 2017 was playing more as a unit.

To underline their strength and resurgence that has seen them shoot to the top of the African rankings, Senegal have lost just once, albeit in controversial circumstances, in their last 12 internationals since March 29 last year.

The only reverse that the resurgent West African giants suffered was a 1-2 defeat against South Africa in a 2018 World Cup qualifier away in Polokwane on November 12 in a match in which Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey, who was later suspended by the Confederation of African Football for three months, took centre stage by awarding the hosts a dubious penalty.

Diouf attributed their resurgence to playing with the right mentality and as a team. Senegal have been solid at this Nations Cup and have yet to concede a goal at the tournament, having beaten Tunisia 2-0 in the opener and are in the last eight for the first time since 2006.

They also beat DRC by a similar margin in their final warm-up match on January 11 before they flew to Gabon

That they have advanced to the Nations Cup quarter-finals with a group game to spare suggests that they may live up to their potential at these finals — something that has not always been the case.

Senegal have been criticised in the past for appearing to lack cohesion and being too individualistic.

But Diouf told BBC Sport that they have had to address the issue of mentality and believes they are now seeing the benefit of a change in attitude.

“We now have the mentality where we try to achieve as a team.”

While Senegal may have the luxury of resting some of the key players, the Warriors, the Carthage Eagles and the Desert Foxes do not have such latitude and for Zimbabwe, maybe Musona’s return might just be the tonic that Pasuwa’s men needed to turn around their campaign.

Article Source: The Herald