Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
ZIMBABWE captain Knowledge Musona could have his first dance with the UEFA Champions League next season should he complete his move from KV Oostende to 10-time Belgian champions Standard Liege in the coming few days, with his handlers confident a deal could be thrashed out very soon. His Warriors counterpart Khama Billiat, who is leaving South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns at the end of his contract next month, featured for the Brazilians in a high-profile exhibition match against Spanish giants Barcelona at Soccer City in Johannesburg last night.
Billiat started for Sundowns in the Mandela Centenary Cup match against the Catalan powerhouse in a match in which Louis Suarez marked his return to Soccer City for the first time after the infamy of his deliberate handball prevented Ghana from winning their World Cup quarter-final battle against Uruguay.
The former Liverpool star scored Barca’s second of the night in the first half, slipping the ball past goalkeeper Dennis Onyanga, scoring at the very goal where – eight years ago – he turned into an unorthodox goalkeeper for his country in that World Cup quarter-final.
Barca legend Andreas Iniesta, who is leaving his boyhood club after years of excellent service, was also marking his return to the stadium where he helped Spain win their first World Cup after defeating the Dutch.
Lionel Messi, the Argentine superstar, was kept on the bench for much of the game and only introduced in the game late into the second period after the crowd at Soccer City demanded he be drafted into the action.
Messi’s arrival coincided with Billiat’s substitution by Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane, who freshened up his team which were handed a lesson in possession football in the first half by the visitors, as the gulf in class between the two sides showed.
However, Sundowns were a vastly-improved team in the second half and pulled a goal back through Sibusiso Vilakazi in a 1-3 defeat for the South African champions.
At times in that second half, Barcelona, who only arrived in South Africa yesterday and were set to leave after the match, appeared to be playing at half pace. Billiat’s destiny remains a mystery even though it’s now known he will be leaving Sundowns next month for a dance with European football.
His Warriors’ teammate Musona, who turns 28 next month, is also the subject of discussions between the two Belgian top-flight clubs, with a move to Standard Liege guaranteeing him a dance with either the UEFA Champions League or the UEFA Europa League.
The Warriors talisman featured in the UEFA Europa League this season for KV Oostende and scored in the first leg of their third round qualifier against French giants Marseille in a match the Belgian side lost 2-4 in the first leg in Marseille.
The French giants then went on to hold KV Oostende to a goalless draw in Belgium on their way to reach the final of the tournament where they From Page 18
took on Spanish powerhouse Atletico Madrid at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon last night.
Musona’s manager, Mike Makaab, is in Belgium trying to sort out the deal and everything look set to be sealed because the owners of Standard Liege are also the same people who used to own KV Oostende and brought the Zimbabwean from Germany.
They believe the Zimbabwean could also add the missing spark to their team which could qualify for the Champions League next season by avoiding defeat in their final match of the season against Charleroi on Sunday.
“I’m in Oostende in Belgium. We are discussing the way forward with Knowledge Musona. I’ve never said this to anybody, there’s a big club looking at Knowledge. We are busy in talks at the moment,’’ Makaab told Igagasi FM show, Extra Time.
Makaab is a guest host on the KwaZulu-Natal popular radio station.
“If all goes according to plan, we are hoping that by the end of the week when I’m back in a studio, I’ll be able to give you the breaking news. “Musona has done well in Belgium for the past two seasons. We are very excited about this potential deal, but it’s not done yet. We are itching closer to finality, and that’s why I had to come here urgently to work with our guys in our European office.’’
Standard Liege could also book their place in the Champions League next season even if they lose that game should Anderlecht fail to beat Gent on the same day.
The two teams are separated by two points going into the final round of matches in a championship which has already been won by Marvelous Nakamba’s Club Brugge.
Ironically, Brugge secured the championship and a place in the Champions League next season by holding Standard Liege to a 1-1 draw in their last match last weekend.
Standard Liege last won the Belgian championship in 2009 and they have been a top-flight club since 1921, longer than any side in the country, while they have also won eight Belgian Cups.
They have already qualified for the UEFA Europa Cup by virtue of winning the Belgian Cup this season but a dance in the Champions League is something they will choose in the event they finish second in the Belgian championship race.
Musona joined KV Oostende in 2015 and the Zimbabwean forward, who has transformed himself into the talisman for the Warriors over the last half-a-dozen years, has scored 39 goals in 110 appearances.
Nakamba and Tinotenda Kadewere have already qualified to play in the UEFA competitions next year.