The Sunday Mail
Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt
THE Warriors camp has been rocked by a knee injury suffered by key forward Khama Billiat but there are expectations the talismanic Kaizer Chiefs man could be back in action as early as tomorrow ahead of the start of the 2019 AFCON finals here on Friday.
The 28-year-old Billiat, one of the players expected to play a leading role for the Warriors in their quest to qualify beyond the group stages of the Nations Cup finals, for the first time, missed the team’s training session here on Friday night after complaining of pain on his knee.
He was then rested for the light session, which the Warriors had last night just outside their team hotel, in preparation for their practice match against Tanzania this evening.
Billiat will miss that match, which will be played under closed doors, because of fears that the Pharaohs, whom the Warriors meet in the opening match of the 2019 Nations Cup finals at the Cairo International Stadium on Friday night, have been sending their people to make a comprehensive study of Sunday Chidzambwa’s men.
“Khama has a slight problem with his knee and is being monitored by the team doctor,’’ Warriors manager, Welly Mpandare, told The Sunday Mail last night.
“That is why he didn’t train with the rest of his teammates on Friday night and was also excused for the light session which the others had today (last night).
“He will not even feature in the practice match against Tanzania tomorrow (today) but we are getting reports that there is nothing to really worry about, in terms of the tournament itself, and an assessment will be made on Monday.
“What we are doing is just a precaution so that he gets into prime shape for the big match against Egypt and we are confident that Khama will be part of the team in that game.’’
Billiat has transformed himself into one of the standout players in this generation of Warriors and illuminated the first match of the team’s 2017 AFCON finals in Gabon against Algeria which ended in a 2-2 draw.
His performance, that day, won him rave reviews among the African football pundits with Ghanaian legend Sammy Kouffor suggesting that Billiat was too talented to still be plying his trade on the continent and should move to Europe.
However, two years down the line, the diminutive forward, who scored three goals in the qualifying campaign for the 2019 AFCON finals, continues to be playing on the continent and some analysts believe this could be his best chance to make a final impression to get a ticket out of Africa.
Predictably, Billiat has been one of the most sought-after Warriors, for an Egyptian media, desperate to give their constituency some sound bites of what the best players in the Zimbabwean team feels about the assignment against the Pharaohs.
Billiat is a very popular player in this country after thousands of Zamalek players flooded the internet, when it became clear he would be leaving Mamelodi Sundowns, pleading with him to come and join the Cairo giants.
However, the Zimbabwean forward chose to join Kaizer Chiefs instead.
The Warriors have always been stalked by injury concerns to their star players, especially when it comes to their first matches at the AFCON finals and, two years ago in Gabon, Knowledge Musona could not last the first match against Algeria.
He missed the second game against Senegal, which the Warriors lost 0-2, but bounced back to play in the final match against Tunisia, where he showed his qualities by scoring a sublime goal in a 2-4 defeat.
Billiat was not the only Warrior missing from the training sessions.
Big forward, Nyasha Mushekwi, was granted permission to return to his base in China after his club Dalian Yifang appealed to the Warriors management to let him play one more match for them.
The Chinese side said they badly needed him in yesterday’s match against Hebei CFFC after they lost some of their star players and promised he would fly straight to join his teammates in Cairo after the game.
Mushekwi played in the Warriors’ friendly international against Nigeria before flying back to China.
Yesterday, he featured for Dalian Yifang, in a league match, but ended on the losing side after they crashed to a 0-1 defeat in a match in which he was shown the red card after 73 minutes.
“We got an appeal from Nyasha’s team and we considered the circumstances and the fact that the club had also released him earlier to join camp in Nigeria and we agreed that he can play in that game and return to join others here in Cairo,’’ said Mpandare.
“He is arriving on Monday and his travel plans have already been rolled out.’’