JOHANNESBURG – Khama Billiat has been here before. The Kaizer Chiefs forward has returned from Ndola once again with his team pinning their hopes on his away goal against Zesco United.
But this time around the possibility of making that away goal count is bleak after Kaizer Chiefs lost 3-1 on Sunday to the Zambian club who were demoted to the Caf Confederation Cup from the Caf Champions League. Three years ago, Billiat returned from Ndola with Mamelodi Sundowns after scoring in a 2-1 defeat in the first leg of their semi-final of the Champions League.
That goal motivated Sundowns to beat the Zambian side 2-0 at home and book a place in the final of the continent’s premier club competition.
While Zesco are used to this space, having reached the semi-finals of the 2016 Champions League, Chiefs are babies. The Soweto giants haven’t reached the group stage of either the Champions League or the Confederation Cup in the two competitions’ current guises despite their success in domestic football.
It will take a massive effort for Amakhosi to end their three-season trophy drought. They are off the pace in the PSL title race and with coach Ernst Middendorp still finding his feet, while chances of them lifting the Nedbank Cup are slim. That is why it’s imperative that they reach the group stage of the Confederation Cup. That success will buy the German coach time and give Amakhosi something to build on going forward.
“I would like to (score in the return leg),” Billiat told reporters on Sunday. “But it’s not so important if I score, it’s more important that we will go through as that’s what we all want.”
Chiefs host the Zambians on Saturday at FNB Stadium, three days after visiting AmaZulu at King Zwelithini Stadium tomorrow in the league. The Soweto giants can’t afford to prioritise one match over the other, as they are both important in their quest to reclaim their dignity.
But the most important match Amakhosi will play this week is the one against Zesco. The club have constantly been accused of overlooking continental competitions, especially the Confederation Cup.
Their argument was that the domestic trophies were more financially rewarding. But that has changed with sponsorship bringing in a much-needed financial injection to the Confederation Cup.
Apart from the money, the challenge of continental football will strengthen Amakhosi’s players as a collective and as individuals. The tough ride they will experience from criss-crossing the continent to face the best teams in Africa would be ideal preparation for mounting a strong challenge in the league next season.
“We created numerous chances (in the first leg),” Middendorp said. “If we get these opportunities again (in the second leg), we will have to take them. If we do that, we are still in with a chance.”
Chiefs need two unanswered goals or more to get past Zesco and book a place in the group stage.
The side has blown hot and cold under the German coach so far. The positive is how they have managed to bounce back positively after a disappointment. They showed that by outclassing Wits 2-0 in Milpark just a couple of days after losing to Sundowns last weekend.
They will need to adopt a similar mentality against Zesco on Saturday.