WARRIORS star man Khama Billiat led his South African side Mamelodi Sundowns into Bulawayo yesterday, where they will take on Chicken Inn in the Caf Champions League preliminary round first leg match at Barbourfields Stadium this afternoon.
BY FORTUNE MBELE
The Brazilians, as the side are affectionately known, touched down at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in the afternoon with all their stars present.
Among them was Billiat, the team’s poster boy, who seems to have returned to his dazzling best after an injury at the start of the season.
The 25-year-old has formed a devastating attacking trio with South African youth international Keegan Dolly and Columbian star Leanardo Castro, code-named CBD.
The Warriors winger appeared in jovial mood as he disembarked from the plane in his maiden trip to the country on club duty.
Billiat, the league’s top goal scorer with eight goals and eight assists — statistics that are sure to scare Chicken Inn — could be seen time and again chatting and exchanging jokes with his CBD member Dolly before boarding a waiting bus to the team hotel.
But not before he told the waiting journalists: “It is my home country team (Chicken Inn) and I am trying to put my mind into working with myself very well because I don’t want to be emotional. I don’t want to feel pressure and end up doing more than I should do. I want to be professional and play for the team like I always do. So, we will just stick to our game-plan because we know that if we play our own game, we always stand a chance.”
While the Tshwane-based side are riding high and on course to wrest the Absa Premiership from Kaizer Chiefs, with only three defeats from 19 matches, coach Pitso Mosimane said it would be folly for him to underestimate the threat that would be posed by the Gamecocks.
“We respect Chicken Inn. We know they are strong because they won the league. I think they know everything about us because their coach (Joey Antipas) was recently in South Africa to come and do his work, which is fair. I also think you Zimbabweans know us more because our team is always on TV,” he said.
Mosimane, also appearing to have done his homework on Chicken Inn, said their good run in the Absa Premiership did not mean they would have it easy against the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League champions.
“It’s a different game in another country and we have to come with respect and understand that Chicken Inn are a good side. It is a team that took the league from Dynamos after four years. We have to respect that. They have very good players and have good combination passes,” he said.
“Their goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze is good. They have a good right-back in Passmore Bernard. Lawrence Mhlanga is a good centre-back and (Devine) Lunga is good on the left. (Edmore) Chirambadare is good and the dribbler (George) Majika is also good.”
Sundowns are coming from a busy fixture list in the league, which culminated in a brilliant 2-1 win over Orlando Pirates on Wednesday night.
“We don’t come with fresh legs. Unfortunately, we had a very big game and did not have enough rest, but we are not making any excuses. We are professionals and should be able to play after 48 hours,” Mosimane said.
Part of the squad that the Brazilians brought includes Billiat’s compatriot, Cuthbert Malajila, skipper Thabo Nthethe and revered midfielder Teko Modise.
Warriors legend Peter Ndlovu, who is the team manager, is also part of the delegation, as he returns to the city that gave him fame.
Sundowns were scheduled to train at the match venue later in the afternoon yesterday.
Chicken Inn coach, Antipas has said he would be cautious in this match, with his game plan hinged on starving balls to the troublesome CDB crew.
“Those guys are good ball players and they have a good supply line,” he said.
“What we have to try and do is cut out the supply line because I believe if we cut it out, those three are not really ball winners or hard workers. They thrive on good supply. So cutting the supply line would be good for us,” he said.
Veteran midfielder, Clemence Matawu has been ruled out of the match for Chicken Inn because of an injury, and so is Teenage Hadebe.
The good news in their camp is the return of captain Danny Phiri, who missed a four-team tournament in Zambia recently due to injury.