Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor
STAR forward Khama Billiat returned to full training yesterday and ended days of wild speculation about his availability for Zimbabwe’s crunch African Cup of Nations qualifier against Congo in Brazzaville on Sunday.
Billiat had since last Saturday been battling to shake off a hamstring strain he incurred while turning out for Kaizer Chiefs in their MTN8 semi-final clash against SuperSport United at FNB Stadium.
Media speculation had even ruled him out of the match.
But, after giving his coaches and the nation at large a glimmer of hope when he insisted that they delay in making their decision on him, Billiat was eventually certified fit after coming out of yesterday’s mid-morning workout at the National Sports Stadium without any major complaints of pain.
Team doctor Somani Mudariki also certified the player fit, much to the relief of coach Sunday Chidzambwa, who has seen his selection options ravaged by injuries to the key quartet of Nyasha Mushekwi, Costa Nhamoinesu, Marvellous Nakamba and Ovidy Karuru.
“He responded positively to treatment and managed to complete today’s training without pain and restriction.
“We, therefore, have availed him to the coaches for possible selection due to that positive development,’’ Mudariki said.
Team manager Wellington Mpandare was equally happy and relieved to see Billiat able to fully train.
“It’s a big boost considering the player has been itching to train and play. We are happy for him,’’ Mpandare said.
Chidzambwa wasted no time in drafting Billiat into the 18-man side that will leave Harare for Brazzaville via Addis Ababa this afternoon.
“Our preparations have gone on very well, it’s only that our influential player Khama Billiat had been nursing an injury, but I am happy he is now fine and we are looking forward to a good game,” Chidzambwa said.
The coach is now set to give a start to the former Mamelodi Sundowns star.
Billiat missed the Warriors opening AFCON qualifier against Liberia at home in June last year in a game in which captain Knowledge Musona justified why many believe he is the team’s Most Valuable Player by scoring a hat-trick.
The Kaizer Chiefs star returned to the Warriors side for the COSAFA Cup campaign, helping the team defend their crown in South Africa, starring in the final against Zambia.
Chidzambwa has also handed African Cup of Nations debut slots to Luckymore Mkosana, Marshal Munetsi and Alec Mudimu in the side that also has six of the players who featured in the opening game against Liberia on June 11 last year, missing.
Defenders Onismor Bhasera and Partson Jaure, striker Tendai Ndoro and midfielder Thabani Kamusoko were not considered for this game.
Injuries also ruled out Karuru and Nakamba, who were part of that team which cruised to a 3-0 triumph via captain Musona’s hat-trick.
Despite the build-up to his team’s camp being hampered by injuries, Chidzambwa still had a positive selection headache in coming up with the travelling party and Bidvest Wits newboy Terrence Dzukamanja was the biggest casualty of the tough competition for places after failing to make the cut.
Former Ngezi Platinum man Dzukamanja had some fine outings for Chidzambwa’s men during the COSAFA Cup tournament and was subsequently snapped up by Wits where he has had a bright start to life in the ABSA Premiership.
But, with the more experienced Kuda Mahachi returning to the Warriors fold, and Billiat recovering, it was always going to be a difficult call to include Dzukamanja, who is not an outright striker, in the seven places that he reserved for the midfielders.
The Warriors coach has actually had his choices in the central striking position restricted to the trio of SuperSport United’s Evans Rusike, Knox Mutizwa of Golden Arrows and the untested Mkosana, who plays for Penn FC in the United States.
There were no places this time around for the local contingent of Byron Madzokere of Yadah Stars, Herentals midfielder Richard Hachiro, Chapungu’s Talbert Shumba and the Ngezi pair of skipper Liberty Chakoroma and goalkeeper Donovan Bernard.
Goalkeepers: George Chigova; Edmore Sibanda
Defenders: Divine Lunga, Alec Mudimu; Ronald Pfumbidzai; Teenage Hadebe; Kevin Moyo; Eric Chipeta
Midfielders: Marshall Munetsi; Tafadzwa Kutinyu; Danny Phiri; Talent Chawapihwa; Kudakwashe Mahachi; Khama Billiat; Knowledge Musona
Strikers: Evans Rusike; Knox Mutizwa; Luckymore Mkosana