WITH one crisp swing of his left foot, the precision of a surgeon and deadly accuracy of a sniper, Khama Biliat didn’t only save the Warriors’ 2022 World Cup campaign.
He also possibly saved the ZIFA board from collapsing under the weight of the fury of a nation baying for its dissolution.
Never before, in the history of domestic football, has a goal — scored with one of the last kicks of the game — carried so much significance in terms of preserving a World Cup dream and preventing a boardroom bloodbath that would certainly have brought down the ZIFA leadership.
Never before, in the history of the local game, has a goal transformed the narrative, from the toxic politics of the boardroom, and all its villains, to the beauty of the events that unfold on the football pitch, where the superstars of this game, like Billiat, operate from.
And, never before, in the history of our national game, has a man of such diminutive frame, carried the fate of his country’s World Cup hopes, and the future of its football leadership, on his slender shoulders with just a single swing of his magical foot making such a huge difference. The difference between chaos and tranquillity, between the beauty and the beast, between hope and despair, between good and bad, between sunshine and rain.
And, the difference between a summer of turmoil — where the boardroom madness would take centre stage — and one where the heroics of players, rather than the deeds of the administrators, would be what hogs the headlines.
Amid the wave of joy that greeted Billiat’s dramatic late winner, and the subsequent feel-good stories it has fed to the media, it has been easy to forget the other side, the ugly one, about what could have happened if that beautiful effort not found the target on Tuesday.
What, if that sublime effort had just drifted just some inches higher and kissed the crossbar?
It would have been the end of these Warriors, as we have known them in the past half-a-dozen years, when the generation led by Billiat and Knowledge Musona imposed its footprints on this team, and — along the way — delivered two AFCON finals appearances.
With both Billiat and Musona now 29, and the next Nations Cup campaign set to be devoured by the chaos that would, inevitably, have followed, assuming — of course — things would not have got so bad resulting in a ban from FIFA, this would certainly have been the end of an era. Tragically, the emerging crop, led by Tino Kadewere and Marshall Munetsi, would have been victims of this chaos, forced to wait for another World Cup qualifier in four years’ time.
A grand opportunity to showcase their talent in the quest for a place in the game’s biggest tournament, while at the peak of their athletic powers, sadly taken away from them, just as was the case when Billiat and Musona and their teammates were barred from World Cup qualifiers.
“It would have been the end of our football because to try and take the game, from where it would have plunged, had we been knocked out by Somalia and the inevitable boardroom battles that would have followed, would have taken us more than a decade,’’ said Bothwell Mahlengwe, a former domestic Premiership footballer, who is an occasional blogger for this newspaper.
“Fans would simply have lost interest, even in the Premiership, because what would have been left for them was to go and watch a league where a 46-year-old player, (Innocent) Benza, is still going strong.’’
And, nowhere would have been the bloodbath more felt, if Billiat’s effort had not gone in on Tuesday, than the domestic football boardroom.
It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for the ZIFA board to withstand the fury that would have followed — both from the public and those tasked with regulating their affairs — and chances are that this current leadership, led by Felton Kamambo, would have collapsed under that barrage of attacks.
The two main principal figures on the ZIFA board, Kamambo and acting vice-president Philemon Machana, were at the National Sports Stadium on Tuesday, sitting side-by-side, and when Somalia equalised, with only five minutes of regulation time left, something appeared to die inside them.
The way they embraced and wildly celebrated that goal spoke volumes about what it meant to them.
“I’m so sure I would have gone straight into the ICU (Intensive Care Unit),’’ Machana joked after Knox Mutizwa and Billiat found a way to provide a rescue package.
Two days before the match, a statement released by the Sports Commission, appeared to set the stage for the inevitable boardroom battles that would have followed.
“SRC has acceded to ZRP’s Criminal Investigations Department continuing with investigations relating to use of SRC, Gvt (Government) & public funds received by ZIFA & or its officials, during Nov 2018 to 31 Aug, 2019 incl (including) fraud & also criminal allegations agst (against) Conduit Holdings,’’ the SRC posted on Twitter.
And, two days later, hours after Billiat’s golden goal had cheered the nation, the SRC tweeted another message.
“Today the SRC Board & Mngt (management) met with a FIFA delegation comprising Messrs Solomon Mudege and David Fani in the company of ZIFA president and general secretary.
The delegation is on a mission to assist ZIFA deal with its legacy debt by engaging key stakeholders & creditors,’’ the SRC tweeted. “SRC expressed its readiness to work with FIFA and to also assist ZIFA to fulfil its mandate while ZIFA pledged to comply with the local sport statues under the guidance of the SRC.’’
Had Billiat not scored that golden goal on Tuesday, with the Warriors being eliminated, it’s likely the furious public backlash would have triggered seismic boardroom events that could have toppled the ZIFA board. Herald