Heartbreak for Mehalalitoe

Heartbreak for Mehalalitoe

Bloemfontein – Lesotho’s women’s team had hoped for a minor miracle to reach the 2018 African Women’s Cup of Nations (AFCON); in the end South Africa had too much firepower. After losing 1-0 in the first leg of the sides’ Women’s AFCON qualifier last Wednesday, Lesotho was praying to be David to South Africa’s Goliath but Mehalalitoe were blown away 6-0 by their more seasoned opponents in Saturday’s return leg.

It was a textbook performance from their vaunted opponents who were full value for their emphatic win in front of an expectant crowd at the Dr Petrus Molemela Stadium in Bloemfontein.

South Africa’s destroyers in chief were Jermaine Seoposenwe and Chantelle Esau, who bagged a brace each, while Hilda Magaia and Leandra Smeda added to the score to give Banyana Banyana a 7-0 aggregate triumph and a ticket to the 2018 Women’s AFCON to be held in Ghana in November.
Mehalalitoe can walk with their heads held high, however.

Monaheng Montšo’s charges have made positive progress over the past year and who knows what would have happened if the draw for the final round of Women’s AFCON qualifying had been kinder.

Instead, the football gods gave Lesotho a South Africa side that is ranked 53rd in the world and fourth in Africa. As it is, this is the closest Mehalalitoe have ever come to reaching the Women’s AFCON. In April, Lesotho outclassed Swaziland 3-1 on aggregate in the first round of qualifying to advance to the deciding stage against Banyana.

A lot of the team’s improvement is down to the advent of the Women’s Super League in 2015. In September 2015, Mehalalitoe were languishing in 148th place in FIFA’s world rankings – the side’s lowest ever rating. Today Lesotho will finish the Women’s AFCON qualifiers ranked 111th in the world and 18th in Africa.

Furthermore, the past few years have seen Lesotho produce quality players such as Boitumelo Rabale, who captains South African champions Bloemfontein Celtic, and Senate Letsie who is now based in the United States.

Last month Ntšabeng Pelea joined their ranks abroad by moving to South African top-flight outfit Super Strikers in Mpumalanga.
And so that is why Mehalalitoe, with their strengthened squad, remained hopeful against Banyana even after last Wednesday’s 1-0 loss at Setsoto Stadium.

Unfortunately, Lesotho couldn’t compete with their semi-professional opponents who are perennial AFCON contenders and competed at the past two Olympic Games.

Rather, it is back to the drawing board for Mehalalitoe after a match which showed how much work Lesotho still has to do.
Competing on the continent will need Lesotho’s women to continue playing as many international matches as possible. For example, during their preparations throughout this AFCON qualifying run Mehalalitoe played several matches against high-profile opponents across the border ranging from Bloemfontein Celtic to Mamelodi Sundowns.
But even more is needed.

For one, the Women’s Super League has to keep growing and it needs more sponsors. In addition, the administration of the women’s game, which is spearheaded admirably by Chris Bullock, requires even more support. For now, though, Lesotho’s next appointment is the COSAFA Women’s Championship which is set to be staged in South Africa later in the year on dates yet to be confirmed.

Mehalalitoe coach Montšo said he started encouraging players in Bloemfontein to keep their spirits high for future assignments.
“I started talking and motivating them after the game (against South Africa) in Bloemfontein and I saw that it made an impact on them in terms of motivation and boosting their confidence,” Montšo said.

“For now we are just going to let the players rejoin their teams and we will start preparing for that COSAFA tournament even though we are not sure of the dates.”

Nkheli Liphoto

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