Warriors star forward Khama Billiat stands on the threshold of greatness today when leads his Mamelodi Sundowns side in the Champions League final first leg against Zamalek of Egypt at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Pretoria. (Kick-off 3-pm)
The second leg is scheduled for the Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria, Egypt on October 23.
Billiat could become the first Zimbabwean player to win the Champions League, 18 years after Sunday Chidzambwa’s Dynamos came agonisingly close before crashing to a 4-2 aggregate defeat over ASEC Mimosas of Cote d’Ivoire in the final.
For Billiat and his colleagues at Sundowns, who include Warriors legend Peter Ndlovu, who is now the team manager at the Brazilians, today’s first leg encounter presents them with a chance to land the ultimate prize in club football on the continent.
The reigning South African Footballer of the Year reckoned their 3-0 hiding at the hands of Wits in the MTN8 final had served as a wake-up call.
“It’s a big lesson what we learnt. We love learning and we can’t choose the way we learn sometimes. That defeat was a wake-up call for us.
“I’m sure we are ready for anything right now and we don’t want to do the same mistake. We can make mistakes that we never did before, we are strong, and we watch our games. We even watch the games we lost to be better in the next game.
“We don’t want to lose again, it was so hard to digest. But at the end of the day, we don’t have much time to cry and mourn. We have to come back and do things right,’’ Billiat said. While they may have frozen against Wits, Billiat is upbeat it will be a different tale this afternoon.
“We are in a great space . . . now our minds are clear and we know what we are focusing on, one cup that we are going for all systems out. We are ready and it is good that we watch our games and we want to learn more and make sure that we rectify our mistakes (from the last game).
We want to go all the way and make sure that we deliver at the end of the day and not just be part of the final.
“We want to make sure that we have something that we can show that we were in the final. It will need us to focus and make sure we do the basics right.
“When there are two legs to be played, you definitely have to make sure that you score and not concede. Those are the basics that win you things. We need to score as many goals as we can, especially at home and make sure you don’t concede,” said Billiat.
The Champions League final is the biggest club fixture for any player’s career on any continent and Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane acknowledged as much.
Mosimane told his club’s website that the Champions League is the ultimate prize he wants, having won several accolades with the Brazilians on the domestic front.
“We spent time and resources preparing for this. The Champions League is big history. It is legacy, and this is what inspires me,” Mosimane said.
“If you take domestic cups — you play three games and you are in the final.
“We have been playing for nine months. We have prepared on training pitches where the grass is knee high. We have spent six to eight hours in transit.
“The referees are different. In domestic competition, we know the referees and their style. Comparing the Champions League with the domestic cups — not that they are not important — is like chalk and cheese,” Mosimane said.
Mosimane noted that this competition and their preparation around the continent, took them out of their comfort zone. Zamalek, who flew into South Africa on Wednesday had four of their players in action in the World Cup qualifiers for Egypt last weekend and their coach Moamen Soliman, promised to resign should he not guide his club to success.
“The coach will win this cup,” Ahmed Mortada Mansour, Zamalek director and son of the club’s chairman, said.
“I heard about what the coach said in Egypt. I have trust in him and the players. It’s more important to win the Champions League than the league. But we didn’t lose by a huge margin in the league which shows we weren’t that far off.“But for me, the Champions League is number one.