Bantu basks in glory

Bantu basks in glory

Maseru – James Madidilane stood by watching as the confetti and champagne flowed at Setsoto Stadium – Bantu, the new power of Lesotho football, had done it again.

It hadn’t always been smooth sailing but Bantu’s Independence Cup victory on Sunday after a tense penalty shootout against Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) confirmed their present status as the preeminent force in local football.

And, in what is the year of the club’s 90th anniversary, it confirmed this as the most successful time in Bantu’s history.

“It is a great win for club and we are happy,” said Madidilane who has overseen a remarkable turnaround in Mafeteng.

Lest it be forgotten – this time last year ‘A Matšo Matebele’ were not even part of the top four festivities at Setsoto. Bantu were coming off a dismal 2015/16 season and uncertainty rather than success was the prevailing feeling around the club.

Indeed, such is the euphoria in Mafeteng these days, it is easy to forget Bantu finished seventh in the league in 2016 which was by some distance their worst performance since their promotion back to the top-flight in 2011.

Bantu had cycled through four coaches in that tumultuous 2015/16 campaign before they turned to Madidilane last July, a former Bloemfontein Celtic and South Africa international player who was embarking on his first head coaching role and with little knowledge of Lesotho football.

The following 15 months, however, couldn’t have gone any better for club or coach. In May, Bantu were crowned league champions after seeing off rivals Lioli in a thrilling title race and on Sunday they showed their mettle once again by coming from behind to beat a gallant LCS side on penalties.

Madidilane, the ever-demanding taskmaster, wasn’t completely satisfied, though.

“I am very happy we won the cup but in terms of the performance I am not satisfied because we should have done better. The good thing is that we are the champions so that’s the only thing that makes me happy but in terms of performance we didn’t do well,” he said.

Madidilane did have a point.

‘A Matšo Matebele’ had for much of Sunday’s final produced a lacklustre performance failing to create goal-scoring opportunities and allowing LCS to dictate the flow of the game.

Indeed, when ‘Masheshena’ took the lead early in the second half through Khethisa Masenyetse’s stunning long range strike it was not a surprise.

And, such was Bantu’s inefficiency; it appeared LCS were destined to get their hands on the Independence Cup and end their own five-year trophy drought. But champions always find a way.

‘A Matšo Matebele’ scrambled a dramatic last minute equaliser through new signing Tsietsi Motšeare from a corner-kick to answer the prayers of the throngs of Bantu fans in attendance.

The ensuing penalty shootout gave Bantu their first cup success under their new coach but, more importantly, for Madidilane it was a good mental dress rehearsal for the next major task on the club’s to-do list – the CAF Champions League next year.

Africa’s premier club competition begins in February. There Bantu will be up against the continent’s best teams and looking to become the first local side since Lesotho Defence Force in 2001 to progress past the tournament’s preliminary stage.

“It’s a case of mental strength; I still have to work with my players as we are going to Africa because such things will happen. You don’t win a game before you play, you have to go onto the field and perform so you need to be consistent,” Madidilane said.

“My players need to be consistent in every game,” he added. “I think one thing that let us down is we came into this game and people were already saying we are favourites. But we didn’t come to the party in terms of playing.”

Nonetheless, the final highlighted several positives Bantu can take into Africa and beyond, namely a deep squad and a coach unafraid to take risks because of his options.

To be sure, Madidilane made bold changes against LCS to change the game.

Down 1-0 late and needing a spark, he hauled off his two top marksmen, Lazola Tjokotjokwana and Litšepe Marabe, pushed utility defender Itumeleng Falene forward and switched to a three-man defence instead of the side’s usual back four.

“In the last 15 minutes I took a risk,” Madidilane explained.

“I said I would rather lose by two or three goals than sit at the back. That’s why I pushed Falene and Moloisane as my wingers and played three at the back. I took a risk and I feel it paid off in the last two minutes. But anything could have happened; LCS could have scored two or three goals.”

The risk paid off by giving Bantu their fifth Independence Cup title in the last seven years and seventh overall. Since 1985 when the showpiece changed to its current format, ‘A Matšo Matebele’ own the most titles with wins in 1993 and 1997 adding to their recent dominance.

Also paying off is Madidilane’s investment in bolstering Bantu’s squad which is seeing new stars rise on a weekly basis. One example is Lindokuhle Phungulwa.

The midfielder was signed last year from Bloemfontein Celtic and was a steady if unspectacular presence in his debut campaign. This season Phungulwa has blossomed. He has become a vital player and over the weekend was named this year’s Independence Cup player of the tournament.

“I’m enjoying my football this season but I’m not yet where I want to be in terms of my performance, but I’m getting there,” Phungulwa said.

“Winning the player of the tournament makes me more of an individual player, I was hoping it would be a team of the tournament not just an individual award but anyway I will take it and thank God for it,” the midfielder humbly added.

But don’t let the humility fool you.

This Bantu group is a proud one that is high in confidence and it should come as no surprise to hear that they never expected to lose after finding their late equaliser against LCS.

“I have been in this kind of situation before, you know when a team is leading and the other team equalises and goes to penalties. The team that is most likely to win is the one that is coming from behind. I was excited,” Phungulwa said.

That is confidence flowing around Bantu at the moment.

And, it is the confidence propelling the club to the greatest heights it has scaled since it was founded 90 years ago.

Independence Cup individual awards:

Goalkeeper of the Tournament: Thabo Selisa (Bantu) M6 000

Player of the Tournament: Lindokuhle Phungulwa (Bantu) M8 000

Top Goalscorer of the Tournament:

Moorosi Tšiu (Kick4Life)

Mojalefa Mabusa (LCS)

Khethisa Masenyetse (LCS)

Masoabi Nkoto (Kick4Life)

Tšepo Lekhoooana (Lioli)

Ralekoti Mokhahlane (Kick4Life)

Tsietsi Motseare (Bantu)

Litšepe Marabe (Bantu)

All eight players share M6 000

Referee of the Tournament: Lebalang Mokete M4 000

Assistant Referee of the Tournament: Lesupi Puputla M2 000

Luciah Phahla

 

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