Bil­liat, Ndlovu go head to head at CAF

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Sport - Rob­son Sharuko Harare Bureau

HIGH-FLY­ING Zim­babwe in­ter­na­tional for­ward Khama Bil­liat and im­mor­tal War­rior Peter Ndlovu stand on the thresh­old of be­com­ing cham­pi­ons of Africa when Mamelodi Sun­downs bat­tle Egyp­tian gi­ants Za­malek in the fi­nal of the 2016 CAF Cham­pi­ons League this month.

Bil­liat, voted the best player in the South African Pre­mier­ship last sea­son, has played a very in­flu­en­tial role in pow­er­ing the Brazil­ians to their first ap­pear­ance in the CAF Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal in 15 years.

The Zim­bab­wean scored three goals as Sun­downs de­fied the odds, ris­ing from the ashes of a sec­ond round elim­i­na­tion at the hands of Os­car Machapa’s AS Vita of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, to some­how book their place in the fi­nal af­ter be­ing thrown a life­line fol­low­ing the dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion of the Con­golese gi­ants.

His price­less away goal, in the 1-2 de­feat in the first leg of the semi-fi­nals in Ndola, Zam­bia, proved cru­cial as Sun­downs beat a plucky ZESCO United 2-0 in Pre­to­ria last Saturday to book their place in the fi­nal of the CAF Cham­pi­ons League.

The last time Sun­downs reached this far, in their quest to win the premier knock­out foot­ball tour­na­ment on the con­ti­nent, was in 2001 but they were out­classed by an­other Egyp­tian gi­ant, record CAF Cham­pi­ons League win­ners Al Ahly, who pow­ered to an easy 4-1 vic­tory. Times, though, have changed. Sun­downs have won in North Africa this sea­son, beat­ing Za­malek home and away in their group bat­tles, and also beat­ing Al­ge­rian side ES Setif – with Bil­liat scor­ing a beauty — be­fore that re­sult was nul­li­fied when the Al­ge­ri­ans were dis­qual­i­fied for the crowd trou­ble that fol­lowed that home de­feat.

Ndlovu, the great­est War­rior of all-time, who led this coun­try to two ap­pear­ances at the Na­tions Cup fi­nals as an in­spi­ra­tional skip­per, is the Sun­downs’ team man­ager.

Now, two of the bright­est foot­ballers to come out of this coun­try find them­selves on the verge of be­ing crowned cham­pi­ons of African club foot­ball should Sun­downs hold their nerve and re­peat their group beat­ing of Za­malek in the fi­nal.

The Brazil­ians, who have been show­ing signs of fa­tigue af­ter a pun­ish­ing sched­ule which has seen them play­ing non-stop foot­ball since Au­gust player year, will host the first leg of the fi­nal in Pre­to­ria in two weeks’ time with the re­turn leg set for Cairo a week ear­lier.

In a tour­na­ment where the team play­ing the sec­ond leg at home en­joys a slight ad­van­tage, some an­a­lysts have ques­tioned why Sun­downs, who topped their group and beat Za­malek home and away, have to play the first leg at home.

The CAF lead­ers, whose head­quar­ters are based in Cairo, have long been ac­cused of bias to­wards the North African foot­ball gi­ants.

Bil­liat, who was ex­pected to move to Europe be­fore the start of this sea­son but has re­mained in South Africa, says it was al­ways his dream to win the CAF Cham­pi­ons League ti­tle.

“I de­cided to stay be­cause I be­lieve not ev­ery soc­cer player will have this op­por­tu­nity to win the Cham­pi­ons League,” he told Goal.com

Bil­liat’s han­dlers could also be gam­bling on Sun­downs win­ning the CAF Cham­pi­ons League and qualifying for the Fifa Club World Cup where the Zim­bab­wean in­ter­na­tional could make a huge im­pres­sion and boost in­ter­est in his ser­vices from clubs in Europe.

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