Game on in Cairo!
Happy Birthday Knowledge Musona
By Mugove Chigada
Zim’s Probable XI
E. Sibanda, T. Darikwa, D. Lunga, A. Mudimu, T. Hadebe, M. Munetsi, M. Nakamba, O. Karuru, K. Musona, K. Billiat, N. Mushekwi.
KNOWLEDGE Musona was only three years old when the Zimbabwe national football team wreaked havoc in a World Cup qualifier in Cairo in 1993.
Late Warriors coach Reinhard Fabisch came out with a blood-soaked shirt while Liverpool legend Bruce Grobbelaar also needed treatment after being struck by a missile.
Former Coventry star Peter Ndlovu was outstanding for the Dream Team in that February 28 encounter.
The 2-1 win for Egypt did not count and a replay was ordered in France where a goalless draw ended the North Africans’ dream of qualifying for the 1994 World Cup.
Exactly 26 years, three months and 21 days later, after that bruising battle before 120 000 fans in Stad El Qahira El Dawly in Cairo, Warriors captain Musona leads his troops into a similar battle on his birthday.
Sandwiched between the two battles of Cairo was another 2-1 win for Egypt in 2013 – a non-event for Zimbabwe.
This time around, it is the 2019 Afcon finals opener against their old nemesis, and the Warriors seek to leave a lasting impression.
Just like in 1993, this battle features another key Liverpool player at a time the European champions are back on top.
It is advantage Egypt with Mohamed Salah, fresh from winning the Uefa Champions League.
And just like in 1993, it is Cairo International Stadium and the odds are against a Zimbabwean team affected by a players’ industrial action.
By 11am on Friday, the players were in a meeting over unpaid allowances while their opponents concentrated on tactics.
But there is a glimmer of hope.
It is true that Zimbabwe once travelled to Malawi by bus and arrived a few hours before the match after another standoff with the association, but still turned the game on its head.
At the beginning of this week, bookmakers had virtually ruled out a Zimbabwe win.
Betting shops were paying $21 per dollar for a Zimbabwe win.
But by Friday afternoon, it was down to $11. And a Zimbabwe goal was no longer paying anything, a return to reality.
Those who understand the Warriors know rankings count for very little.
Warriors and Kaizer Chiefs talisman Khama Billiat figures as a familiar face in North Africa.
He is another huge factor.
Both Egyptian football giants Zamalek and Al Ahly have tried in vain to lure the skillful player in the past few years.
Zimbabwe vs. Egypt – Head to Head
Egypt 4 wins
Zimbabwe 1 win
The possibility of another major upset is high.
This week, Egyptian journalist Hady Elmedany spoke to ZTN Sport, highlighting that memories of 1993 when his country failed to qualify for the World Cup were still fresh.
“With Zimbabwe, we have bad history. There is the 1994 World Cup qualifiers when we drew in France. The Egypt team must play for the fans,” he said.
The Egyptians have a superior head-to-head record, having managed four wins, lost once and drawn twice in seven meetings.
However, leading lights Musona and Khama have been clear that this is far from a “tour of the famed Egyptian pyramids”.
The battle lines are drawn.
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