WARRIORS talisman, Khama Billiat has significantly enhanced his chances of writing his name into football folklore by becoming the first Zimbabwean to win the Caf African Player of the Year award after helping his side, Mamelodi Sundowns clinch the Caf Champions League trophy in Alexandra, Egypt, on Sunday. BY HENRY MHARA
Although the South African side were beaten 1-0 by home side Zamalek, they still lifted the cup on a 3-1 aggregate score after a convincing first leg victory in Pretoria a week before.
Billiat did not register his name on the scoresheet in those two matches, but has been the standout performer for his side, both domestically and on the African safari.
“It’s a great feeling to be an African champion. It was an amazing journey of ups and downs and through the grace of God, we are the champions of Africa. We give glory to Him,” Billiat said. “I think that I played my cards right by staying here. I am glad that I stayed. But I don’t know what will happen in the future. You never know what will happen in football. You just need to play your best because you never know when an opportunity will come.”
He was rewarded for his impressive performance last season, when he was voted the South African Footballer of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year and Midfielder of the Season, among numerous other domestic accolades.
And having successfully led his side to conquer Africa, and become the second Zimbabwean to win the trophy after Chris Samakweri, Billiat has put himself in prime position to land the Caf African Player of the Year based in Africa award.
The 26-year-old sensation has been nominated for the prestigious award, together with teammates Keagan Dolly, Hlompho Kekana and Dennis Onyango and Kaizer Chiefs’ Itumeleng Khune in a 25-man list of nominees.
He has also been nominated for the Caf African Player of the Year award, but chances of clinching this one are slim, as he comes up against Leicester City’s Algerian midfielder, Riyad Mahrez, Gabonese international, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who plays for Borrusia Dortmund, Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and other international superstars.
If he clinches the African Player of the Year based in Africa award, as is hugely expected, that would complete a remarkable year for him, where he also helped the Warriors to qualify for January’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals set for Gabon.
The awards ceremony will be held in Abuja, Nigeria, on January 7. Africa’s finest 11 will also be chosen on the day, and Billiat will surely be rubbing his fingers for that as well.
But before he can think of the awards and the Afcon finals, Billiat is, again, expected to lead his Mamelodi Sundowns when they represent the continent at December’s Fifa Club World Cup in Japan.
Sundowns become South Africa’s first club to compete at the tournament, which runs from December 8 to 18.
At the tournament, Billiat will share the stage with global luminaries like Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
But more importantly for Billiat, competing at the tournament presents him with a chance to get noticed by top European clubs.
The 13th edition of the Fifa Club World Cup is played between the champion clubs from each of the six continental confederations, as well as the national league champion from the host country.
“We look forward to Japan and facing the best clubs in the game. It is going to be an absolute pleasure,” Billiat said.
Besides Sundowns and European champions Real Madrid, other notable teams that will compete include South American champions, Atlético Nacional and Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football champions América.
Billiat’s side will begin their campaign at the quarter-final stage and if they progress, they will face Atlético Nacional of Colombia in the semis and another victory would set them on a possible date with Real Madrid.
Previous Caf representatives at the tournament TP Mazembe and Raja Casablanca managed to make it to the final and Sundowns would be looking to emulate that success and possibly even go one further.