CROWNING MOMENT . . . Khama Billiat wrote his own piece of history last night when he became the first Zimbabwean to win the Caf Champions League
KHAMA BILLIAT’s quest for greatness went a gear up last night when he helped Mamelodi Sundowns win their first CAF Champions League title in a landmark triumph for the South African football giants. The high-flying winger will now become the first Zimbabwean footballer to play at the FIFA Club World Cup in December where he will share the stage with global football superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos.
He is expected to play a prominent role for the Zimbabwe Warriors when they return to the Nations Cup finals after a 10-year absence in Gabon next year. Although Sundowns lost 0-1 to the Egyptian giants Zamalek at the Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria last night, their 3-0 cushion from the first leg proved too high an obstacle to clear and the Brazilians became the only second South African side to become African champions.
With reports suggesting that the triumphant Sundowns players will receive R1 million each, Billiat will also certainly be smiling all the way to the bank. Billiat who could not hide his joy thanked the Almighty in a television interview afterwards.
“All credit to God. God knew how he was going to lead us. It has not been an easy journey in this campaign there have been ups and downs but we give Glory to God,’’ Billiat said. Billiat also revealed that he was relishing the opportunity to play against some of the best clubs on the globe at the Club World Cup.
“It will be a pleasure to play amongst the best and we are looking forward to it and I am sure we will enjoy it,’’ Billiat said. The Brazilians were crowned 2016 African champions, winning 3-1 on aggregate over two legs. The Tshwane side become only the second South African team to win the continent’s most coveted crown, following in the footsteps of Orlando Pirates who won the same title in 1995.
Stanley Ohawuchi scored the only goal of the game on the Egyptian coast. Trailing 3-0 after the first-leg at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville, Zamalek head coach Moamen Soliman made no fewer than four changes with the talented Shikabala named among the substitutes.
As for Sundowns, Pitso Mosimane made a single forced change with Bangaly Soumahoro included in the starting XI, with Wayne Arendse suspended for the clash. As expected, the White Knights controlled the early exchanges and should have hit the front in the 12th minute. Ohawuchi burst into the area, but with only the goalkeeper to beat the Nigerian could only succeed in directing his shot inches wide of goal — Denis Onyango doing just about enough.
The Brazilians invited a lot of pressure and suffered a massive blow just short of the half-hour mark with Onyango forced off the field on a stretcher. Wayne Sandilands replacing the Uganda international.
Ohawuchi was Zamalek’s main protagonist with the wide man going close on two occasions in quick succession — first Soumahoro did well to clear at his feet before the former Nigeria youth international saw his header wide from the resulting corner-kick in the 32nd minute.
Sundowns first chance of the match fell to Percy Tau seven minutes later. The visitors were always going to be dangerous on the counter-attack and after good work by Billiat, Tau controlled before seeing his volley attempt saved by Gennesh in the Zamalek goal.
Billiat then went even closer in the 42nd minute after Ahmed Tawfik was denied by Sandilands. The Zimbabwe international seeing his deflected effort canon off the top of the crossbar. Sundowns found their rhythm in the closing stages of the half with Anthony Laffor forcing Gennesh into another save — the White Knights goal-minder up to the task once more.
Despite a catalogue of attempts, the two side’s entered the tunnel deadlocked at the break, with Sundowns holding firm despite eight minutes of added time at the end of the opening stanza.
Zamalek finally found the opener in the 64th minute with Ohawuchi steering his powerful shot from range past Sandilands — the South African goalkeeper got to the ball, but was unable to keep out the stinging effort.
Sundowns parked the proverbial bus despite Pitso Mosimane urging his players to be more expansive with Hlompho Kekana registering their only noteworthy attempt on target in the 76th minute.
The White Knights continued to pile on the pressure and went within inches of doubling their lead. Former Southampton man Emmanuel Mayuka’s header attempt cleared off the line by Soumahoro in the 86th minute. The burly Ivorian with the outstanding moment of the match as the Brazilians held on to clinch glory.
Last night’s triumph also completes a fairytale for the “Brazilians’’ who had earlier been eliminated in the preliminary rounds but handed a berth in the group phase when the Congolese club AS Vita Club were found to have fielded a player supposed to be suspended after a red card.
Sundowns took their second chance with gusto and dominated their group, including beating Zamalek both home and away in July. They have now won three in a row against the Egyptians, who are five-time African champions but have suffered a drought of more than a decade since they last had success.
Zamalek: Gennesh; Khaled (Shikabala 76’), Dweidar, Gabr, Youssef – Hamed (Salah 85’), Tawfik – Ohawuchi, Hefny (Mayuka 85’), Fathi – Morsy
Mamelodi Sundowns: Onyango (Sandilands 28’), Langerman, Nthethe, Soumahoro, Mbekile – Kekana, Mabunda – Dolly, Tau, Laffor (Modise 72’) – Billiat (S.Zwane). — Sports Reporter/ SuperSport