By Nokutenda Chiyangwa
Italian coach Giovanni Solinas hailed Khama Billiat as the best player in the South African Premier Soccer League after the Warriors international put on a fine performance that helped Kaizer Chiefs secure a vital MTN8 semi-final, first leg draw against Kaitano Tembo’s SuperSport United at Lucas Moripe stadium in Pretoria yesterday.
Billiat thrust Chiefs into a 19th minute lead before SuperSport United hit back with a quick-fire brace from man of the match Bradley Grobbler in the 24 and 38th minutes to give the home side a 2-1 lead at the break.
The Warriors forward, regarded as the highest paid player in South African football, then provided a sublime assist to strike partner Leonardo Castro a minute after the break to bring Chiefs back into the game.
Billiat, turning on easily his best performance since he joined Chiefs as a free agent at the start of the season also came close to adding to his tally on a couple of occasions as Amakhosi sought to take the advantage heading into the second leg at FNB stadium next weekend. His exploits left his coach Solinas full of praise for both Billiat and his partner Castro.
I spoke with my midfielders that we need to protect our central defenders. They did a very good job,” Solinas said.
In the first half we lost our shape and space and SuperSport stole this space and we were too soft but in the second half they changed their mentality,” the Italian said.
Former Warriors captain Willard Katsande also featured for Chiefs while Tembo had fellow Zimbabwean Evans Rusike fronting the SuperSport attack.
Solinas said his players’ performance in the second half had given him a lot of hope for the second leg of the semi-final.
“For the second leg, I am optimistic but the road is still long and the challenge is not finished. SuperSport is a very strong team so it’s not over,” he said. Billiat also received special mention from Tembo who conceded that the former Mamelodi Sundowns man had been a handful for the SuperSport United defenders.
“I think we played well in the match but I’m not happy with our defence, I think they were more worried about Khama’s pace and we kept on dropping and sometimes when we were meant to be tracking then releasing, we kept on tracking.
“Khama is an intelligent player, he can identify spaces he can run into and he gave us problems today but I think in terms of our overall performance we played well.
“We scored some two good goals, gladly and I think the fight is still on, we’re still going to go there, the fight is not over yet,” Tembo said.
Tembo outlined the need for his defence to toughen up and be prepared to protect the spaces that could be used by Billiat in the second leg.
The former Warriors vice-captain, eyeing his first title as head coach also praised Grobler for his ability to be opportunistic even though he felt his side had relaxed a bit in the second half.
“We played better in the first half even though we did not have a good start. In the second half we didn’t play well when they got that equaliser, that killed us a little bit but we kept on going.
We could have had a few more chances but Chiefs played well, they worked well together, they fought hard and I think we still gave their defence a good game in the second half.
“At half time I emphasized on taking opportunities but we kept on dropping and our lines were a bit zig zagged but our players worked very hard.
We are going to go and work on our defence but whenever we went wide we gave the Chiefs a little bit of problems,” Tembo said.
The Chiefs striker who has made a name for himself in South African football says he has no plans to let his team and the fans down in the second leg of the semi-final even though SuperSport had given them a tough afternoon.
“Firstly I want to thank God for the opportunity, it’s always great to get the opportunity to play football which is a game I love. The second half was definitely better and we reacted accordingly by doing what the coach had told us to do. We passed the balls in between and found each other,” Billiat said.
His reunion with Castro has left the Chiefs fans relishing some good times and crucially brought hope that the former Mamelodi Sundowns pair could help end a three-year trophy drought for Amakhosi. “That was a brilliant goal from Castro and we did what we always work on.
“Hopefully we will improve for the next match and we hope to score more goals and win the game.
“This was a great performance from the boys. More effort needs to be placed in the second leg of the semi-final and we need to win more and make sure that we improve,” Billiat said.
In the first of the semi-final clashes on Saturday, Mathew Rusike’s Cape Town City took a slender 1-0 advantage over Mamelodi Sundowns at Cape Town stadium.