Good signs for Likuena

Good signs for Likuena

Luciah Phahla

Maseru

Lesotho’s 2016 COSAFA Castle Cup adventure came to end on Tuesday after a fortnight in which Moses Maliehe’s young charges showed plenty of good signs for the future.
Despite low-key expectations, Likuena put in a spirited and at times, classy, display to reach the semi-finals of the regional showpiece.
The onus now is on the Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) to provide direction.
Firstly, the position of head coach has to be decided swiftly. If Maliehe, backed by Likuena’s performance in Namibia, is LEFA’s man, then he should be appointed on a permanent basis. Secondly, Likuena’s fledgling crew needs to be given an opportunity to gel and grow.
As things stand, Lesotho’s next international outing will be in September, a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier in Algeria. From there Likuena have no games scheduled until 2017.
Stagnation after such a positive tournament would be tragic, especially given Likuena were penalty kicks away from beating South Africa last Saturday and securing a semi-final berth.
In their three group games Likuena showed a verve and panache not seen in some time, certainly not since the early days of 2014 when, under former caretaker coach Seephephe Matete, Lesotho beat Liberia and Kenya to reach the group stages of qualifying for the 2015 AFCON.
After that bright start Lesotho crumbled necessitating a change and Maliehe’s own short-term appointment last November.

jane thaba-ntsoThe early signs were lukewarm under Maliehe. Likuena did claim a first international win over a year with a 2-1 victory over Seychelles at Setsoto Stadium in March, however, Lesotho lost its other five matches in 2016: qualifiers against Seychelles and Ethiopia and a trio of friendlies to Botswana and Swaziland.
Namibia was a different story. Likuena were rampant in their opening game two Sundays ago against Mauritius with the dynamic Jane Thaba-Ntšo etching his name into the record books with a 34th second strike, the quickest ever goal in the COSAFA Castle Cup’s 19-year history.
Likuena won 3-0 and Kefuoe Mahula earned himself a man-of-the-match award after a sterling individual performance in the heart of midfield.
Two days later Lesotho executed a fine defensive plan to beat Angola 2-0, a strategy that was exemplified by skipper Basia Makepe walking away with the man-of-the-match award.

The third group game against Malawi was a tactical masterpiece for Maliehe as his charges followed his counterattacking plan to a tee to nick an 84th minute win that sealed Group B and a quarterfinal spot.
Likuena ended the group stage as the only side not to concede and only Zimbabwe and Madagascar, with seven goals, scored more than Lesotho’s six.
Last Saturday’s quarterfinal against South Africa was another heartening display. Despite playing their fourth game in a week against an opponent playing their first, Likuena were not out-matched.

Indeed, Lesotho took the lead in the 19th minute through another eye-catching Thaba-Ntšo strike. South Africa equalised in the 65th minute through Gift Motupa, but, instead of wilting, Likuena could well have stolen the win if Thaba-Ntšo’s break-away header over an advancing Reyaad Pieterse had found the net instead of trickling just wide.

In the end, Likuena lost 4-2 on penalties, ending dreams of an improbable cup win and relegating Lesotho to the Plate competition contested by the four quarterfinal losers.
Lesotho’s opponent was Zambia and Maliehe made several changes to give other players a run.
Regulars Mafa Moremoholo, Daniel Jousse and Mabuti Potloane started from the bench while Sepiriti Malefane, Phafa Tšosane, Montoeli Sonopo and Liteboho Mokhehle were given their chance to shine.
Zambia proved to be strong contestants.
Chipolopolo took the lead through Paul Katema in the 14th minute from a cornerkick; however, Likuena recovered and got an equalising goal a minute before the stroke of halftime through a stunning freekick from 35 yards by Tšosane.
The second half started with a confident Likuena taking the game to Zambia and they deservedly took the lead through a Makepe header in the 54th minute. But, it did not take long for Zambia to equalise. Two minutes later it was 2-2.
The game was locked at 2-2 and seemed headed to penalties until Zambia scored a late winner to send Lesotho home.
But, Likuena can do so with their head held high and, perhaps, with hopes of becoming a more competitive fixture on the international scene.
With a relatively new and young team, Lesotho’s performance at the COSAFA Castle Cup showed signs of improvement and potential.
Thaba-Ntšo ended as Lesotho’s top goalscorer with three goals to his name followed by Makepe with two goals. Kopano Tseka was brave in central defence while the young trio of Mahula, Hlompho Kalake and Tumelo Khutlang return as household names.
Perhaps some of Lesotho’s best performers will earn moves abroad after their performances. But, no matter what happens, the ball is now firmly in LEFA’s court.

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