By Langton Nyakwenda
Khama Billiat did his bit and scored a gem of a goal but that was not enough to avert a major heartbreak for Kaizer Chiefs who hogged the limelight for the wrong reasons after choking on the final day of the ABSA Premiership when being held 1-1 by Baroka at Bidvest Stadium in Johannesburg yesterday.
On the same day their closest rivals Mamelodi Sundowns showed class to thump Black Leopards 3-0 and pip Chiefs to the championship on a nail biting last day of the 2019-2020 season.
Chiefs went into the final round tied on 56 points with Sundowns but topped the table courtesy of a superior goal difference.
They needed victory to clinch their first league title in five years and it all looked on course when Billiat powered them into the lead after 39 minutes.
The Warriors star shimmied his way past the Baroka defenders before placing the ball beyond a hapless countryman Elvis Chipezeze, much to the delight of Chiefs football manager Bobby Motaung and the rest of the Amakhosi family who were following proceedings on this dramatic day.
It was Billiat’s second consecutive goal, having scored against Chippa United in midweek and third of the season for the 30-year-old who ended the season with 22 appearances.
However, things turned sour for Chiefs when Manuel Kambala headed home Gerald Phiri’s free-kick in the 59th minute.
Baroka, who had Chipezeze to thank for some timely saves, hung on for a point that secured their place in the top-flight after finishing third from bottom to avoid the arduous route of play-offs while Chiefs finished second, two points behind champions Mamelodi Sundowns.
It was a third straight league title for Pitso Mosimane’s men who have now won five championships under the shrewd former Bafana Bafana gaffer.
But the major talking point remained how Chiefs hogged the limelight for the wrong reasons as they became the first team to top a log table for 13 months but still go on to fail to win the title.
At some stage in the race, the Soweto giants enjoyed a 13-point lead over Sundowns and for long spells they had a 10-point advantage over the chasing pack.
But they have been in poor form since football resumed in South Africa after months of Covid-19 induced lockdown and yesterday they paid dearly for failing to return to gear as their title hopes evaporated before an empty Bidvest stadium.
Their only consolation is that they will return to the CAF Champions League arena for the first time since 2015.
This is because South Africa has two slots in Africa’s premier inter-club competition.
At number six, the South African Premiership is ranked amongst the 12 leading leagues on the continent, alongside Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, DR Congo, Zambia, Nigeria, Guinea, Angola and Sudan who also have two representatives in the Champions League.
Chiefs would have loved to celebrate their 50th anniversary with a league title but their coach Ernest Middendorp lost the plot along the way and yesterday admitted his side had a poor second half.
Former Warriors captain Willard Katsande, who was substituted in the second half, also missed a chance to win a second championship medal with Amakhosi.
He was part of the Chiefs squad that won the title in 2015.
Highly rated Zimbabwean coach Kaitano Tembo also had a final day to forget as he failed to guide SuperSport United to a CAF Confederation slot as the Pretoria side slid from third to fifth following a 0-1 defeat by Cape Town City.
SuperSport United, who had Onismor Bhasera and Kuda Mahachi in the starting line-up, ended up slipping down to fifth following wins by Orlando Pirates and Bidvest Wits who thrashed George Chigova’s Polokwane City 3-1.
Polokwane City, who are home to the Zimbabwean trio of Walter Musona, Charlton Mashumba and Chigova, were effectively relegated to the National First Division.
Chigova conceded 32 goals in 21 matches for Polokwane.
It was a different story for Warriors’ winger Talent Chawapiwa whose side AmaZulu drew 1-1 against Highlands Park to finish 13th and avoid the relegation/promotion playoffs.
Usuthu are also home to former Tsholotsho midfielder Butholezwe Ncube.
Chawapiwa came on as a second half substitute while veteran keeper Tapuwa Kapini played 90 minutes for Highlands Park who finished ninth.
Former FC Platinum defender Kelvin Moyo also played the entire match for Chippa United who scrambled a 1-0 win over Knox Mutizwa’s Golden Arrows to finish 11th and a place above Arrows.
Mutizwa, the Zimbabwean player with the most appearances in the 2019-2020 Absa Premiership, ended the season with 13 goals in 29 appearances – three shy of Orlando Pirates’ Gabadinho Mhango and Highlands Park’s Namibian goal poacher Peter Shalulile who finished as joint top marksmen.
However, it was Billiat who once again proved he is still one of the deadliest strikers in the Absa Premiership with an exquisite goal that left Supersport commentators Mark Gleeson and Brian Mathe running out of superlatives.
The Warriors star recently come under heavy criticism in South Africa, the latest coming from Thanda Royal Zulu coach Mlungisi Ngubane, who questioned Billiat’s age.
“Billiat is playing like a player who came here having reduced his age. Now he is trying, but it’s no longer happening.
“Maybe he is not even 29,” Ngubane told Kick Off recently.
But, Billiat showed he still can make things happen, whenever he wants to, with a gem of a goal that almost secured Chiefs their first league title in half a decade. The Sunday Mail
ABSA Premiership Results:
AmaZulu 1-1 Highlands Park
Mamelodi Sundowns 3-0 Black Leopards
Orlando Pirates 1-0 Stellenbosch
Bidvest Wits 3-1 Polokwane
Cape Town City 1-0 SuperSport United
Bloemfontein Celtic 3-1 Maritzburg United
Chippa United 1-0 Golden Arrows
Baroka FC 1-1 Kaizer Chiefs