Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
HE might have spent a number of weeks on the sidelines through injuries, including horrific head injury that sent him to hospital in November, but Khama Billiat has been very impressive in the South African Premiership this season he has been named among the league’s All-Star XI players.
Others even feel that the diminutive Zimbabwe international forward, who scored again on Saturday as Mamelodi Sundowns beat Maritzburg United 3-2 in a league match, has been Super Diski’s outstanding player in the 2015-16 season.
Billiat’s stock has been rising this season and many feel that it’s time that he leaves Super Diski to play in Europe, where the best footballers in the world ply their trade, and where his Warriors’ teammate and good friend, Knowledge Musona, has been doing well in Belgium.
Musona and Billiat are the Warriors’ trump cards, as the nation battles to end 10 years of a fruitless search for a place at the Nations Cup finals, with the duo having already scored for the senior national team in their two matches in the 2017 AFCON qualifiers.
Billiat scored the winner in the 2-1 victory over Malawi in Blantyre while Musona was on target, timing his run to perfection to beat the offside trap and then drill home with aplomb, in the 1-1 draw against Guinea at Rufaro in the second match.
Another Mamelodi Sundowns’ forward, Cuthbert Malajila, has also been on target after he scored the opening goal against Malawi in Blantyre.
Billiat has been illuminating the South African Premiership, with his sudden bursts of pace, quick feet, dribbling wizardry, assists and key goals as he leads Mamelodi Sundowns’ search for the league title in a marathon in which the Brazilians have become the odds-on favourites.
And STATS, a leading global company that analyses the statistics of players in the top-flight leagues around the world, have named Billiat among the top performers in the South African Premiership at the halfway stage of the league title race. “STATS captured hundreds of thousands of data points a game and have used key performance indicators in a 4-4-2 formation of the league’s best performers this season,” The Sunday Times of South Africa reported yesterday.
The STATS report says Billiat has been the outstanding player in the right midfield position in the South African Premiership although many Zimbabweans, and many neutrals, will argue that he has been the best player in the league this season.
“The Zimbabwean has been outstanding this season, shaking off injury problems to finally become the main man at the club,” The Sunday Times noted, quoting the STATS report. He has often been used in a central role behind the lone striker, where his influence can be most felt, as opposed to play(ing) as a winger.
“Despite missing four games through injury, Billiat has four goals (make it five after yesterday’s goal) and four assists in the PSL in just 11 starts.
“He tops Sundowns’ goal and assist charts in the PSL this season.
“He picked up a goal and assist in the crucial 4-2 win against Bidvest Wits and also scored and assisted in the 2-0 win against Pirates.
“His four assists have also been not just speculative passes but the skilful attacker has laid goals on a plate for Leandro Castro to convert into effectively an open net for two of those assists.
“Billiat takes 2,91 shots per game, with 53,13 percent of those shots hitting the target.” The report says there is still room for improvement for the Zimbabwean.
“His finishing of chances is still an area he must improve, his ability to beat players often present him with clear-cut chances that he should be converting more often,” the report says.
“However, Billiat is more of a creator. His 4,73 crosses per game is bettered only by Franklin Cale (5,55 crosses per game) among the PSL wingers and his 6,91 passes into the penalty area per game places him fifth among PSL wingers/number 10s.
“For pure chances created, Billiat is ranked eighth out of all players in the PSL to have played a minimum of five matches, averaging 2.2 chances per match for his teammates.
“If Sundowns are going to regain the league title this season, then keeping Billiat fit, and in form, is arguably the most important factor for the Brazilians.”
Billiat is one of the three Sundowns players in the All-Star XI midfield named by STATS with Hlompo Kekana and Bongani Zulu also getting places, while the other place goes to Bidvest Wits’ Daine Klate, and another Brazilian, defender Wayne Arendse, also makes the team.
Three other Wits players – goalkeeper Moneeb Josephs, rightback Nazeer Ali and forward Phakamani Mahlambi, also make the All Stars’ XI team.
Veteran Zambian forward Collins Mbesuma has been given a place in the All-Stars XI team, among the two strikers, and his Mpumalanga Black Aces teammate, Lehlohomolo Nonyane, occupies the leftback role for the team.
Chippa United’s Nigerian captain, James Okwuosa, is one of the central defenders.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe skipper Willard Katsande was on target for Kaizer Chiefs in the 1-1 draw against Orlando Pirates in the Soweto Derby at the FNB Stadium on Saturday.
Katsande, who is developing a knack of scoring in the big matches, found himself in a pocket of space on the blind side, after the ball had been flicked into his path from a corner, and drilled it past the ‘keeper, the ball taking a slight deflection off a defender, to give Chiefs the lead.
But Pirates rallied for a share of the spoils with Thamsanqa Gabuza heading home in the second half.
Another Zimbabwean forward, Evans Rusike, was also on target for Maritzburg United, in the 2-3 loss to Sundowns, while Kingstone Nkhatha, chose the right game, with his new coach Stuart Baxter watching from the stands, to score the only goal as SuperSport United – under the guidance of Kaitano Tembo – won 1-0 against Free State Stars.