Khama Billiat may have resurrected Mamelodi Sundowns’ continental aspirations, which looked bleak till the Zimbabwean stuck a late in the first leg semifinal of the CAF Champions League.
Billiat stole Jackson Mwanza’s thunder after the Chipolopolo forward’s brace put Zesco in the driving seat. Before Billiat’s intervention, Sundowns were second best in almost all aspects of the game.
For the better part of the opening half, Sundowns were under siege. The home side had found free leeway down the left, where Tebogo Langerman operated. Langerman was not effective. His clearances were not convincing. Even his general contribution left a lot to be desired. Midfielder John Chingandu got behind Langerman and combined well with Jesse Were. The Zambians threatened from the first whistle. The visitors had goalkeeper Denis Onyango to thank for keep a clean sheet in the first half. Onyango thwarted close to four one on one situations after the Brazilians defence was breached. Onyango came out tops to stop Were from rounding him after Were was sent through on goal by Chingandu. In fact Were would later be denied by Onyango in a similar fashion.
Sundowns played Billiat as a lone striker with Themba Zwane and Keagan Dolly on the wings and Percy Tau in the number 10 role. Billiat had two half chances on volley in the second half. His attempts were either blocked or deflected for corner. The most promising chance for Sundowns came from a counterattack that saw Tau releasing Tiyani Mabunda down the middle. The midfielder rifled a low shot that forced keeper Jacob Banda to stretch wide and parry for a corner.
Sundowns midfield and defence did their best to contain the Zambian marauders but that just the story of the first half. The visitors would finally crack and the masses were poised to celebrate after Chipolopolo player Mwanza grabbed a brace in a matter of two minutes. The first goal Mwanza headed beyond Onyango’s reach a cross from Simon Silwimba. Two minutes later Mwanza added the second one. His slight touch from a Mwelwa Mwape freekick was enough to beat Onyango sending the whole stadium into ecstasy. The chants of “United! United!” echoed inside the largest stadium in Zambia. The men from Tshwane capitulated and things went south.
What dampened Downs players’ spirits was what looked to be suspicious officiating. When Billiat raced forward and appeared to have been felled inside the box, Sundowns players expected the referee Hamanda El Moussa to point to the spot but the Madagascan flashed yellow in the Zimbabwean’s face. Sundowns needed just one goal to minimise the harm. Kekana located Tau with a long pass and the winger had only Banda to beat but Tau skied his shot much to the chagrin of Mosimane. Substitute Anthony Laffor had a similar chance and he too squandered the chance by shooting over the posts. Tau was not done wasting. The midfielder had another chance. This time he did well to skillfully get Silwimba and was one on one with Banda. Instead of playing the ball across for a rushing Laffor, Tau shot tamely for Banda to make a routine save.
Then there was glimmer of hope for the South Africans. Billiat got the consolation goal. Billiat was a beneficiary of a well worked move instigated by Billiat, who released Laffor down the right. The Liberian put in a cross for the Zimbabwean, who was composed himself before beating Banda from close range.
With that it was no longer gloom for the Brazilians.