D-Day for Likuena

D-Day for Likuena

MASERU – It all comes down to this, 90 minutes between a potentially famous win and history for Lesotho. On Sunday, Likuena host Zimbabwe at Setsoto Stadium in the second leg of the sides’ 2020 African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifier. Lesotho trails 3-1 from the first leg played three weeks ago in Harare, but that sole away goal could turn out to be priceless.

The maths for Thabo Senong and his side is simple: win by a 2-0 score-line at home and you will be travelling to Cameroon next January to join 15 other nations at the CHAN finals.

“I am positive,” Senong told thepost on Tuesday as he braced for Sunday’s crunch tie.

“The players are motivated and we will make sure that we leave everything on the field for 90 minutes,” he added.

“We know the importance of this game, we can make history for Likuena by qualifying for a tournament; we must take it seriously and give everything.”
Lesotho has never been this close to seeing itself at a continental championship.

The closest shave till now was in 2001 when Likuena were in touching distance of the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) only to fall on the final day of qualifying in a group that contained Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the self-same Zimbabwe.Even then, however, Likuena didn’t have their destiny in their own hands; they had to win in Ghana in the final game and came up short.
This time Likuena control what happens: beat Zimbabwe in front of your crowd and you advance to the finals.

That the CHAN tournament is reserved only for locally based players makes Lesotho’s odds that much better.
Likuena dismantled South Africa in the previous round which included a rousing last minute win over Bafana at Setsoto.Senong will be counting on the same spirit and atmosphere on Sunday.

For the most part, Likuena’s CHAN group is also the main core of his first choice Lesotho team. The only real absent regulars are Tumelo Khutlang, Nkoto Masoabi and Tshwarelo Bereng who are based in South Africa and are ineligible to play.

Looking to protect their lead, Zimbabwe, for their part, will come to Maseru with a plan to defend and counterattack, Senong said.
“Zimbabwe is going to make sure they deny us chances to score; they are going to be very compact,” the Likuena coach said.

“They are going to play with counters, they have players that have speed and are very explosive. They are going to use set-plays, they are a quality team. We respect them but we cannot fear them. We have to come up with a good game-plan.”

Part of that game-plan will have to include Likuena being clinical with their chances as they were against South Africa.
“To be honest, we know it’s a hurdle, it’s a steep hill because we have to score goals and we must not concede,” Senong said.

“That’s why this week in our training we have to make sure we work on not conceding and also work on finishing. We must work on our attackers’ confidence because it is one of our biggest challenges. We are creating (chances) but our biggest challenge is finishing them.”
A snippet of that was seen in Lesotho’s 1-1 friendly international stalemate with Malawi on Sunday at Setsoto. Likuena performed well, created numerous opportunities but had to settle for a draw.

“What satisfies me is that we are creating chances,” Senong said.
“For me I am still hopeful and the players are still hopeful. It is another 90 minutes (to play), we have not lost hope. It is not going to be easy for us, but it is also not going to be easy for Zimbabwe.”
Key to making things difficult for the Warriors will be Likuena sticking to their principles, Senong added.

“The culture of football for Likuena is possession,” he said.
“They love to have the ball and it is the same style that I love as the coach. It’s one of the reasons why I am working with them, but what we are trying to change is the speed of our possession. We are trying to move the ball as quick as possible because it stretches the opponents. If we have permanent width we can be able to switch the game.”

Senong said one of the main players for the strategy to work will be in-form Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) winger Thabo Seakhoa whose pace and physical qualities are perfect for Senong’s plans.
“If we don’t have permanent wingers then we are going to struggle to stretch the compactness of our opponents,” Senong said.

“That’s what we are trying to do and you could see that we managed to open Malawi on many occasions and that’s what we are hoping (to do against Zimbabwe).”

All of Lesotho will be hoping the plan works on Sunday, too.
A ticket to Cameroon awaits the winner.

Tlalane Phahla

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