Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt
HE promised a blitzkrieg, delivered a goal of genuine quality, cast a spell over the Cranes and walked away with the man-of-match award but Khama Billiat wants more — to help his team blaze a trail as the first group of Warriors to qualify for the AFCON finals knock-out stages.
In a tournament where the Warriors have dumped their tag as a boring team to watch, playing with a combination of pace and movement that has been easy on the eye, after years of being labelled a one-dimensional defensive unit, Billiat has been the star of their show, so far.
The lively 28-year-old forward, who arrived here after a miserable debut season at Kaizer Chiefs where his arrival didn’t spark the silverware rush, some expected, and the transformation of the Amakhosi into a competitive unit, which many believed, has been a man on a mission.
After an eye-catching show against the Pharaohs where, to an extent, his individual show illuminated the Cairo International Stadium more than Mohamed Salah, Billiat even went a gear up in the second match against Uganda on Wednesday night and took the man-of-the-match honours.
There have been moments when he has looked like one of the African stars who are lighting up European football, and not a player still plying his trade in Super Diski, like that touch of genius against the Pharaohs that left two Egyptian defenders colliding while he burst clear of their defensive lines.
The arrogance to even try that, against the most punishing defence on the continent in its backyard, tagging the line that separates the field from the rest of the stadium, a sublime touch giving him control, his instincts seeing a window where others would have seen walls, the sudden change of pace and, boom, the two defenders were colliding.
And, there have been moments when, as was the case with his goal against the Cranes, where he has done something only he, it appears, in our team, can do — the ability to see the opportunity that Ovidy Karuru’s burst into the left channel provided, the perfect positioning between the defenders and, of course, a lovely touch to caress the ball home.
From a distance, it looked like a simple goal but on closer analysis, with the help of replays, the beauty of the product comes out and shines brightly — the deft touch, to give the connecting just the right weight it needed so that it doesn’t go straight at the imposing frame of goalkeeper Denis Onyango but just beyond him and into the far corner.
If anyone thinks it was easy, then Evans Rusike’s better chance, in the second half, which gave Onyango a chance to first cool down the pace of the ball and then to scramble it away from the goal-line, should tell the story of why Billiat’s goal was a fine piece of art.
Now, wanted by millions of fans of Egyptian powerhouse Al Ahly, who have been singing his name at every opportunity, in a spirited campaign to try and get him play for them, with some even saying they will besiege the airport to plead with Billiat not to leave Cairo until he signs for their team, the Zimbabwean star has been a man under the spotlight.
And, he hasn’t let that pressure consume him with some fine performances for his country here but he wants more, wants his team to remain in this tournament beyond the group stages and try to go toe-to-toe with the traditional giants of African football.
“We are disappointed, we wanted three points,’’ he said after the match against Uganda. “We have to take the point and make sure we win the last game.
“I don’t know what the future would be like. I just wanna win that game and make sure we go to the next round, we want to win, we wanna give everything, we want three points.
“I think it’s good to create chances because we can work on scoring than not to create chances, you still have to work on creating chances for you to score.
“I believe it’s positive for us, to create chances, as we can work on scoring and we can take advantage as strikers but we really need to score goals because we are creating chances.’’
Ironically, the Ugandan media had warned that the biggest threat for the Cranes was likely to come from Billiat and that the Ugandans failed to deal with him is testimony of his talent.
“As strikers need to step up and take more responsibility. We need to give ourselves responsibilities, I hope we can do it against DR Congo. Uganda is a very good team and they also gave us a good challenge.’’
Giant goalkeeper Denis Onyango, crowned the best African goal-minder by CAF in January this year, is a former teammate of Billiat at Mamelodi Sundowns and was beaten for the first time at this AFCON finals on Wednesday night.
“Yes‚ definitely we won the battle‚ we won the fight,’’ he said. “Because all we want is to get the points. It’s not good to concede‚ but it was a very good goal from Khama.
“Much respect‚ because he’s a top player.
“It will be fantastic for Ugandan football if we leave the group. I’m happy with the boys. The fight is good and the spirit is growing higher and higher every game.
“The experience in Gabon really helped us. We’ve got about 10 guys who were in that tournament. So it’s all good for us,” Onyango said.