Billiat, Ndlovu go head to head at CAF
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.