Billiat explains why Zimbabwe are taking the Cosafa Cup so seriously
It says something about the approach taken by Zimbabwe at the Cosafa Cup that even their biggest star‚ Mamelodi Sundowns' 2016 Caf Champions League winner Khama Billiat‚ says he's "grateful" to be there.
Zimbabwe's full-strength team were made to sweat in their opening quarterfinal against Botswana‚ eventually winning on penalties thanks to Polokwane City goalkeeper George Chigova's shootout heroics.
The Warriors played a silky‚ fast‚ passing game but missed chances‚ and should hit their stride better in Wednesday's semifinal against Lesotho at Peter Mokaba Stadium.
Billiat seemed genuinely taken aback by the big 'home' support – the Beit Bridge border is just 200 kilometeres away – against Botswana.
Sunday Chidzambwa’s team are using this tournament as their final preparation for the resumption of their Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign – they reached Gabon 2017 – in September.
They also want to defend their 2017 Cosafa trophy.
"It's important. It's a game of football. We play football and every tournament is big for the nation and also the team‚” Billiat said.
"We are preparing for Afcon. And‚ ja‚ I'm just grateful to be here. I've never played Cosafa and this is my first time and it feels great.
"It's just good to be around good players and good to play football."
It does seem strange that‚ when Bafana so often struggle to have players released for Cosafa‚ even though it is in the off-season‚ Zimbabwe have managed to have so many high-profile PSL players here‚ including also Orlando Pirates' Marshall Munetsi.
Their own clubs must also seem to prioritise the national team given that they are able to release players in the middle of the Zimbabwean league season‚ which runs on a southern hemisphere calendar.
"I'm not sure how it works [with our PSL clubs]‚" Billiat said.
"The nation is preparing for the Afcon‚ and we don't play more friendly games after this‚ and we're not in the World Cup.
"So it's actually one of the tournaments where we can be together and see how far we are in the preparations.
"With the clubs in Zim‚ I think it's just a great relationship we have in the country. We support the nation and we all want to win as a nation and all want to take the nation to where it belongs."
Far from crying over the loss of much of another off-season‚ like all those he had to forego as Sundowns sought continental success‚ Billiat is loving being in Polokwane surrounded by Zim stars such as Baroka FC's Talent Chawapiwa and SuperSport United's Evans Rusike.
"It's just players who have got more hunger. They're moving in the same direction – no ego in the team‚" he said.
"No-one is bigger than anyone. And we all want to achieve the same goal."
Billiat is delaying signing a new contract at Sundowns‚ which ends this month‚ as he seeks a club overseas.
* Marc Strydom is in Polokwane as a guest of Cosafa
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