Khama Billiat has missed the last seven Sundowns games due to an injury. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu, BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG – The simple act of driving himself to the stadium, especially to the home games, felt like an outer-body experience for Khama Billiat.

He was physically in the car but a part of him, especially the heart, was in the Mamelodi Sundowns’ bus that drove to Loftus Versfeld three times without him, also to Athlone Stadium, twice to Lucas Moripe Stadium, as well as Phillip Omondi Stadium in Kampala last weekend.

“The hardest part about this injury hasn’t been the pain or getting over it, but it has been driving to the games to go and watch the team, instead of being with them playing,” Billiat said.

“It was hard because I am not used to that. I am used to being in the bus, psyching up myself for the match.

“But I had to accept that I am not there and must work on getting fit.”

The Zimbabwean forward has missed the Brazilians’ last seven games after sustaining an injury in the 2-1 win over Platinum Stars a month ago.

That match and the seven that followed showed Billiat’s importance at Sundowns. In Phokeng, Billiat helped the Brazilians to take all three points at the death in a match that looked destined for a draw.

Without him, the reigning Absa Premiership champions have won only one of their last four league games.

That’s why those associated with the club will welcome his return, which should be against Kaizer Chiefs at FNB Stadium next Saturday.

His face lights up when he talks about how he feels, now that he's started training again. “I can’t even describe it,” Billiat said. “It feels like I am preparing for a final. I need to be careful though, and work hard to compete.

“I don’t even think about that injury any more. I am just working on my game, trying to be a second or even a minute faster than my markers. That’s why I am not scared of being tackled because my game is to go in and out as quick as possible.

“It’s a matter of how tough you are mentally. If you become a chicken because you come from an injury, then you won’t play well; you will chicken out whenever you are tackled.”

Billiat drove himself to watch the Brazilians start their CAF Champions League title defence at Lucas Moripe Stadium against Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).

He was in the country as the Brazilians visited KCCA in Uganda. His teammates did enough to book a place in the group stage but it wasn’t easy, leaving it late after KCCA gave them a scare.

It will only get more difficult as every opponent Sundowns will face will be driven to defeat them so that they can brag about beating the African champions.

“It can only make us better because now every game becomes tough,” Billiat said.

“We have to show up as the defending champions. We have to come to the tournament stronger than what we were last year.

“We obviously have to come out with different tactics and redefine ourselves. That will make us better players at the end.

“I am sure everyone is ready, like I am. We will go out there with the desire to keep the trophy here.”

Returning to play on the continent will remind Billiat of the heights he reached last year, helping Sundowns conquer Africa and finishing behind his teammate Denis Onyango in the running for CAF’s Footballer of the Year – Based in Africa.

CAF will conduct the draw for the group stage next month in Cairo on April 26.

“I must be careful about the success of the past,” Billiat said. “I mustn’t think that I have made it. There are a lot of things that I personally would like to achieve. I am still here. I have to work harder than what I did last year, to show that it wasn’t a fluke.”


Saturday Star