Khama Billiat stunner saves Zimbabwe’s blushes in late, late show

Khama Billiat stunner saves Zimbabwe’s blushes in late, late show 1
Khama Billiat stunner saves Zimbabwe’s blushes in late, late show 2

Zimbabwe 3-1 Somalia

(Zimbabwe win 3-2 on aggregate)

HARARE – Khama Billiat was not even supposed to play here, wrapped up in soft wool by his club Kaizer Chiefs after picking up a knock away to Cape Town City a fortnight ago.

Then, on Monday, Zimbabwe’s talisman declared himself fit and offered himself to his country.

Somalia, the lowest ranked African team in the world, carried a surprise 1-0 lead and with just over two minutes of injury time to defend at the National Sports Stadium, they were well on course for a first ever appearance in the World Cup group stage. They had not won in 18 matches before they beat Zimbabwe.

What’s more? They had just earned a cheap free-kick in Zimbabwe’s half and their Ghanaian coach Bashiru Hayford had the appearance of a sign language professor on the touchline – seconds away from earning the title of Somalia’s best coach ever.

Then the Somalians, who had gained in confidence, played themselves into trouble and Zimbabwe won a throw in. Ian Nakati found the industrious Marshall Munetsi with the throw-in, and the midfielder lifted it over his marker to find Knox Mutizwa who skipped a challenge and motored forward.

For once, the Somalis left Billiat unattended on the edge of the box and Mutizwa duly found him. Billiat pretended to cut inside and shoot, flooring his marker, before moving the ball swiftly to his left. The ball had long nestled in Ali Qalid’s top left corner by the time he stretched out his preventive palm.

Caretaker coach Joey Antipas, who seconds earlier was a front-runner for Zimbabwe’s worst ever coach, punched the air in delight – a huge East African monkey off his back.

As happened in the away fixture, Zimbabwe had boxed themselves into a corner most unnecessarily.

The Warriors lacked urgency in a dull first half in which their best opportunity fell to the returning Ovidy Karuru, who shot straight at Ali on the stroke of half-time.

Evans Rusike then went close 10 minutes after half-time as he forced Ali to parry with a rising shot.

As chances came and went, the Warriors had 13 minutes on the clock when Rusike headed on from a corner to an unmarked Munetsi who volleyed in acrobatically with his back to goal.

This was only enough to take Zimbabwe into extra-time.

Then calamity. A long ball forward was intercepted by Nekati who should have cleared his lines but attempted a pass to Teenage Hadebe, who was a handshake distance away. The ball came off Hadebe’s knee and into the path of Omar Abdullah Mohammed who calmly lifted over the exposed Elvis Chipezeze.

The away goal for Somalia now meant Zimbabwe had to score twice to go through. Antipas was a picture of despair.

But winning a free-kick on the edge of the Somali box two minutes later, Mutizwa took responsibility, his shot going in off the head of a visiting defender. Mission impossible had suddenly become mission viable.

Cue the Billiat show.

Zimbabwe’s Starting 11

Elvis Chipezeze, Ian Nekati, Divine Lunga, Alec Mudimu, Teenage Hadebe, Marshall Munetsi, Ovidy Karuru, Khama Billiat, Evans Rusike, Kudakwashe Mahachi, Clive Agusto

Source: Zim Live

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