Flicker of hope

Flicker of hope

MASERU – WHEN the draw for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers was made in July, Lesotho was placed in Group L alongside Benin, Sierra Leone and African powerhouses, Nigeria.
Almost immediately most people wrote off the two group games against Nigeria because it was difficult to see how Likuena would take points from a team that not only features consistently in the AFCON finals, but has qualified for six FIFA World Cups.

Sunday’s 4-2 defeat to Nigeria at Setsoto Stadium, therefore, was a valuable lesson for Likuena and hopefully the team and players learned from the experience.
The Super Eagles were not at their best but this is a team that finished third at the last AFCON tournament held in July in Egypt.
The visitors didn’t need to be at their best to win on Sunday because good teams always find ways to win and that is exactly what Nigeria did as they pounced on every Likuena mistake at Setsoto.
In his post-match interview, Lesotho national coach Thabo Senong described Sunday’s affair as a clash of experience and quality against a team whose greatest virtue in comparison was a positive mentality.
By and large this was evidenced on the pitch.

Lesotho took the lead in the 11th minute when Nkoto Masoabi sent the home fans into early ecstasy with a header that beat a helpless Daniel Akpeyi in Nigeria’s goal.
However, if anyone says they didn’t expect Nigeria to answer back they would be lying.
Likuena’s lead was nice while it lasted but the way Nigeria continued to plug away, even after going a goal down, was impressive and spoke to their superior collective experience.
The visitors calmly maintained their shape and patiently kept building their way towards an equaliser.

Two mistakes moments apart before the break gifted Nigeria two goals and they were in total control of the game from there.
“Nigeria applied themselves very well (but) I also want to congratulate our players for showing courage throughout the 90 minutes,” Senong said.
“This was a game of experience (and) quality versus the right mentality and, if you look at the match, we had some good moments but we are not consistent with the right actions and the right applications and, for me, that is because of the experience we are lacking.

But I must say that when our players concentrate and apply themselves well we look better,” the South African tactician added.
The Super Eagles sealed the game in the second half with highly-rated striker Victor Osimhen scoring in the 75th minutes and Chidozie Awaziem finding the net ten minutes later to make it 4-1 before Awaziem scored a late own goal. Senong said Nigeria’s greater nous decided the game.

“I must say that the quality of the Nigerian team showed especially later in the second half because we lost concentration especially after scoring and it was very difficult to manage the game because many individuals lost concentration and maybe (they had) a little bit of excitement. But it is a lesson learnt, we look forward. We have four games to go (in AFCON qualifying). Nigeria with their quality will probably say they will probably steam a lot of points from every team in Group L,” Senong said.

Senong is right. Likuena are a work in progress, and the most important thing is to learn and move forward to the next assignment.
Lesotho’s next Group L tie is in August 2020 against Benin and there is no better preparation data than a game against one of Africa’s best teams.
Of course, conceding four goals is demoralising but there is no shame in falling to a side that will most likely top Group L and qualify for Cameroon 2021.
Lesotho’s goal is to grab the coveted second spot in the group in order to join Nigeria at the AFCON finals and it was encouraging to see Likuena not sitting back on Sunday in attempt to avoid to conceding more goals.

Instead they kept on attacking the Super Eagles.   As Senong put it, it is better to lose 7-1 than to sit back and defend a 1-0 deficit.
“It was important to be more offensive because when Nigeria is leading 2-1 you are looking to equalise at 2-2, you cannot be defensive minded, you can only be offensive hence we tried to bring a lot of creativity in the midfield which is (why we had) Hlompho Kalake and Lehlohonolo Fothoane just to help us in creating goals and push for equaliser,” Senong explained.
“When you are looking for an equaliser against a team like Nigeria you are also opening up and I will always say it is better to lose 7-1 than just sit at the back and lose the game 1-0 because you are scared,” he added. “We had the chances and we missed the chances. Some of the decisions were not on our side (but) we can only move forward and learn. The most important thing for our players is to learn.”

Tlalane Phahla

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