‘King’ Khama quite confident he’ll capture the missing trinket in his crown
THE closest that Khama Billiat came to royalty as a child was feeling like a king.
But in a two-legged Caf Champions League final against Zamalek, starting at Lucas Moripe Stadium at 3pm today before the return leg in Alexandria next Sunday, Billiat and his Mamelodi Sundowns teammates have a chance to be kings of Africa.
Sundowns already rule South Africa while Billiat was crowned the PSL Footballer of the Year in May. If the Brazilians beat five- time African champions Zamalek, then they will also rule the continent and go to Japan for the Fifa Club World Cup next month to meet other continental rulers.
A little embarrassed talking about his personal achievements, Billiat speaks with more authority when discussing the time that his father, Mustafa, bought him his first pair of boots.
“I felt like a king. He made me special among my friends because I had proper boots while some of them didn’t. I was the one being asked to borrow my friends when I wasn’t playing. He really surprised me,” he said.
“I remember I was supposed to get school shoes, but I cried for those boots. He got them for me and he didn’t have a problem with it because as a parent, if the school shoes are finished then you must buy new ones. Not less important things like football boots.
“I was taken aback because that’s how much he believed in me and my talent. Now I can get boots any time I want them,” he added.
And Billiat will need to lace up his goalscoring boots this afternoon if Sundowns are to make the most of their home- town advantage before jetting off to Egypt.
The Brazilians’ class of 2001, along with Orlando Pirates in 2013, were denied Champions League glory after playing to a stalemate at home against Al-Ahly.
The Egyptian giants wrapped things up in Cairo for two of their eight continental titles. Zamalek will look to do the same thing.
But Billiat believes that this is Sundowns’ chance to rule the continent.
The Zimbabwean has also waited a long time for his chance. He once even quit playing after financial problems at Aces Youth Academy limited their programme. Kaizer Chiefs came to Aces and signed his friend Knowledge Musona.
Ajax Cape Town eventually brought Billiat to South Africa and gave him his break in the top-flight, before he joined Sundowns three years ago.
The 26-year-old has won almost everything there is to win with the Pretoria outfit, and a Champions League winner’s medal is about the only thing that’s missing.
Billiat argues that what he saw from Sundowns in last year’s Champions League against five- time African winners TP Mazembe in the second round gave him the belief that they can go all the way this season.
“They made our team to be monsters. They made us more arrogant and stronger because we could have beaten them. But we didn’t have the experience of playing at that level. We have that now,” he said.
“The coach ( Pitso Mosimane) had believed in us and told us that there is nothing scary about Mazembe.
“He said they were just like us. We couldn’t beat them because we didn’t have the experience of playing in that stage as a group.
“That game made us a better team because when we watched the game afterwards, we got angry with ourselves because we saw we could have won.
“Little mistakes played a role in us losing. We heard that their coach said that we were their toughest opponents,” he added.
“We thought that if we could be tough to the team that won the Champions League last year and we weren’t even at our best, then we can be champions the following year by going into the tournament wiser and without fear.”
Mosimane has told his players to remain calm and not do anything out of the ordinary leading up to arguably the biggest match of their lives.
“I told them that they don’t have to change the way they have been doing things,” he said. “You have to do what you did that led you to be in the final. You have to ask yourselves: ‘How did I get to the final?’
“Look at the good and the negatives. You take the good and try to improve the challenges that we had, be it on the tactical, technical, mental or social side.
“I told them that just because this is the biggest game of your lives, I don’t want you to change your lives drastically.
“Now you start sleeping at 7pm, because you want to sleep early and you change your cycle. That will affect you in the match.
“So do what you have been doing. If you have been sleeping at 10pm, do so,” Mosimane added. “But obviously there are things that you might have done that were a challenge to your preparation, you shouldn’t go with that.”
KHAMA BILLIAT: Cherishes his first pair of boots