By Eddie Chikamhi
Khama Billiat proved why he remains a big game player, despite the challenges he has faced at Kaizer Chiefs, as he scored the priceless goal which sent the Amakhosi to their first ever CAF Champions League quarter-final on Saturday.
Billiat, who was starting for the first time since recovering from an injury that had kept him out since January, grabbed the equaliser in the final Group C match away to Guinea giants, AC Horoya.
The match ended 2-2, with both teams tied on nine points in Group C, behind group winners, Wydad Casablanca, of Morocco.
But the Amakhosi went through to the quarter-finals, for the first time in their history, due to superior head-to-head advantage.
The 30-year-old attacking midfielder scored the goal, worth its price in gold, in the 76th minute as Chiefs twice came from behind, to secure their place into the last eight.
Billiat’s former team, Mamelodi Sundowns, also made it into the last eight, on an historic weekend, for South African football.
This is the first time, in the history of South African football, that two clubs have advanced to the knockout stages of the competition, after the Brazilians won Group B, despite their surprise 0-2 defeat, to CR Belouizdad, on Friday.
Billiat has divided opinion, since his big move from Sundowns to Chiefs, three years ago.
He had a brilliant run with Sundowns in this competition, winning gold in 2016, and also reaching the quarter-finals, the following season.
That fine show in the CAF Champions League underlined his status as the Most Valuable Player in South Africa.
He was also voted the first runner-up in the CAF Player of the Year, based in Africa category, where many felt he shoud have been chosen ahead of his then teammate, goalkeeper Dennis Onyango, on account of his starring role for Sundowns.
However, he has endured a difficult time, since the move to Chiefs, ranging from injuries, the excessive pressure from the fans, and the unwarranted criticism from sections of the South African media.
But, his goal on Saturday, immediately sent the social media into overdrive, with many football followers showering praises on the Zimbabwe international.
“That goal Khama Billiat scored tonight is worth the entire R32M they have paid him so far,” African Insider posted, soon after the match.
“Khama Billiat, in just a single match, he has repaid all the salary he’s getting paid for the past three years,” tweeted Dumela Zingelwayo.
“Khama Billiat is the man for the big moments,” added another Twitter user by the name, Oliver Mafumadi.
Chiefs had to work hard for their point against Horoya, at the General Lansana Conte Stadium.
The hosts took the lead late in the first half, through Yakhouba Gnagna.
Chiefs drew level through a Daniel Cardoso penalty, in the 67th minute, only to fall behind to a Fode Camara goal.
But, the Amakhosi never relented and eventually drew level again through Billiat, in the 76th minute.
Billiat returned to full training two weeks ago.
He has been out of action, after sustaining an injury, during a South African Premiership tie against Maritzburg United on January 9 at FNB Stadium.
“It has been difficult,” reflected Billiat on his time out of action recently in an interview with the Kaizer Chiefs website.
“We are professional footballers and we always want to contribute by playing through hard, and good times, so you can grow as a person.
“I got injured against Maritzburg United and I never saw it coming. I have never been in a situation where I have had to miss so many games.
“It was difficult for me. I thought I would push myself harder and come back as soon as possible but I understand that everything happens for a reason.
‘’I thank God for the strength, and I feel better at the moment.”
Billiat, who scored an away goal against Horoya in Conakry during the 2018 edition while featuring for Sundowns, was a familiar face for the hosts.
The two teams played a goalless draw in South Africa and the two goals which Chiefs scored away proved critical, in the head-to-head tussle, after they both finished on nine points.
The official draw for Africa’s elite club competition will take place, on April 30, at the CAF headquarters in Cairo, Egypt.
The good run, in the Champions League, will certainly atone for Chiefs’ poor run in the DStv Premiership, where they sit a distant ninth after 20 games.
Chiefs coach, Gavin Hunt, told FARPost he was looking forward to the draw.
“It is a great achievement – the last eight, it is going to be tough now – who we are going to draw, but we will worry about that when we get to it.
“This is a hell of a competition to play, and we haven’t signed anyone, you got to look at it in that perspective – a squad that we’ve got to try and go on this front, it is a big achievement so far and we have overachieved, but we haven’t won anything.
“To win league titles is the ultimate but this (CAF Champions League) is the flagship, the one that has come on the radar now, we have got a taste of it now, good experience.
“The club has brought me here to win trophies, they will win trophies with me.
‘’What we need to do is to look at our squad going forward and get the desire and attitude back, I mean, they were so close last year but we need to be challenging for trophies but that will take time with the squad,” said Hunt. The Herald