Likuena’s long wait continues

Likuena’s long wait continues

MASERU – Likuena’s quest to win a maiden COSAFA Cup title came to an abrupt end last Wednesday with a semi-final defeat at the hands of Botswana in Durban, South Africa.
Lesotho had gone into the tournament hoping to reach a first final and perhaps claim gold for the first time.
The goal was part of an ambitious mandate set by the Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) which demanded Likuena reach at least the final after consecutive semi-final appearances in 2017 and 2018.
Although the mandate might have ramped up pressure on the national team, this was viewed as a good opportunity as any for Likuena to reach new frontiers at the showpiece especially with several pre-tournament favourites such as Zimbabwe, Uganda and hosts South Africa fielding second string sides with their focus on the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) which starts in Egypt later this month.
However, Lesotho again fell at the semis losing 2-1 to Botswana who went on to lose 1-0 to Zambia in last Saturday’s final.
The ramifications of Likuena’s performance will remain to be seen.
Before the start of the tournament LEFA made it clear the future of Likuena’s technical team would be decided after the 2020 African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifiers against South Africa in July and August.
Likuena were without head coach Moses Maliehe in Durban. Maliehe was ill and was temporarily replaced by his assistant coach, Mpitsa Marai, and Bantu coach James Madidilane for the tournament.
With Lesotho’s COSAFA Cup defeat coming soon after the failure in March to quality for the 2019 AFCON, all eyes now will be on Likuena’s CHAN campaign.
Likuena started their COSAFA Cup campaign in the quarterfinals against Uganda. It was a difficult game and for the majority of the time Lesotho was frustrated by their counterparts and some decisions that went against the side – Likuena had two goals ruled out for offside as the tie ended in a goalless draw.
Lesotho eventually won the penalty shootout with goalkeeper Sam Ketsekile claiming the man of the match award for his impressive display on the day.
Marai kept the same squad for the semi-final against Botswana before making changes in the third and fourth place play-off against Zimbabwe which Lesotho lost on penalties.
So, how did the boys perform?
We rate them.

Sam Ketsekile (8)
The Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) goalkeeper was probably the standout performer for Likuena, especially against Uganda where he single-handedly kept the team in the game with some crucial saves to keep the score-line goalless in regulation play.
The veteran goalkeeper then showed his experience in the ensuing penalty shootout as he saved two penalties to emerge as the hero of Lesotho’s quarterfinal win.
He kept his place in the semi-final against Botswana and conceded two first half goals, the second of which he could have perhaps done better.
Ketsekile didn’t start the third-place playoff against Zimbabwe but it was no surprise to see him substituted on when it was clear the game would be heading for a penalty shootout.
Although he couldn’t produce more miracles against Zimbabwe, overall, Ketsekile was colossal for the national team in Durban.

Tšoanelo Koetle (7)
Koetle played as a right-sided fullback for the entire tournament because Likuena suffered a blow before leaving for Durban when they lost two defenders to injuries.
It forced the technical team to make do with the players they had which pushed the Lioli midfielder into defence.
Although Koetle has played the position before, he has operated as a midfielder for club and country for the better part of the past five years.
He came up against some pacey wingers against both Uganda and Botswana but the combative Koetle acquitted himself well defensively.
It is going forward where he perhaps could have provided more width for Likuena.
Lesia Thetsane (6)
The United States based leftback did not have a great outing in Durban. It was not a surprise to see him hauled off two minutes into the second half in the semi-final against Botswana to pave way for Thapelo Tale. It was a tactical move to bring in an attacker as Lesotho was trailing 2-0, but Thetsane had offered little until that point.
He passed a late fitness test for the bronze medal playoff against Zimbabwe game but his performance overall was average.

Nkau Lerotholi and Basia Makepe (7)
The centreback duo of Lerotholi and Makepe had a difficult game against Uganda as the ‘The Cranes’ mounted waves of attacks but the pair remained disciplined. Despite letting in four goals in two games the centrebacks worked their socks off. Lerotholi took over the captaincy armband from Makepe against Zimbabwe as Makepe was suspended for the game. The play-off turned into a tricky game for Likuena’s defence but they soldiered on.

Tšoarelo Bereng and Sepiriti Malefane (7)
Since making his debut for the national team, Bereng has won the fans over with his slick passing and eye for a goal.
The Black Leopards midfielder has rarely put a foot wrong in the centre of the park and whenever he is with the national team produces stellar performances.
He started the first two games in Durban and was important in the midfield either helping out the defence or carrying the ball forward. He came in from the bench against Zimbabwe and drew Likuena level to 2-2 with a great goal. His midfield partner Malefane was similarly impressive with solid performances throughout the tournament.

Tumelo Khutlang (7)
One of the stars in the national team, Khutlang never stops running and working hard. It is no surprise fans always look to him to create something special for the team.
Because of his pace he was always a thorn for defenders although he missed the side’s last game due to an injury. Khutlang is a player that gets fouled a lot and creates set-pieces for the team.
He was not as influential in this year’s showpiece as last year when his displays earned him a move to South African side Black Leopards but he was crucial to Likuena again.

Hlompho Kalake (5)
Kalake was one of the players that had a nightmare in the semi-final defeat against Botswana. Nothing went his way. His crossing, passing and end-product was just not up to standard.
‘Stiga’, as Kalake is known, is not a natural right winger but he has played that position before for his club Bantu. Before leaving for the tournament the technical team said they were aware Kalake is not a winger but they were confident he would do the job based on their game-plan. Unfortunately, Kalake on the wing did not work out well for Likuena.

Masoabi Nkoto (4)
Another player that had an outing to forget is the Real Kings striker.
Nkoto was probably the worst player across the whole squad. In his three games he did not score or create any chances. He was plagued by poor decision-making in the final third which left the Likuena fans that made the long trip from Lesotho to KwaZulu-Natal frustrated throughout.

Motebang Sera (8)
Absolutely phenomenal throughout the tournament for Lesotho, Sera was a go-to-man when Likuena wanted goals. He came from the bench in the quarter-finals against Uganda and refreshed Likuena’s attack. He was unfortunate to see his goal ruled offside as television replays suggested it might have not been the case.
Surprisingly, despite making such a big difference against Uganda, Sera was still on the bench again in the semi-finals against Botswana. He was introduced in the first half with Lesotho trailing 2-0 and pulled one back in the second half. However, unfortunately Likuena could not find the crucial second goal.

Lehlohonolo Fothoane (7)
Fothoane, just like Sera came, from the bench against Botswana and breathed life into the team. He was very energetic and provided the attacking threat Likuena needed. The Bantu midfielder was one of the bright sparks for Likuena and, hopefully, we will see more of him in the national team colours.
Honourable mentions:
Players such as Thapelo Tale and Jane Thaba-Ntšo deserve an honourable mention. They didn’t put a foot wrong in difficult situations and Tale’s introduction, for example, helped Likuena step up their attack against Botswana.
Backup goalkeeper Thabiso Lichaba played one game that he didn’t finish – the third-place playoff against Zimbabwe – and didn’t play enough minutes to earn a rating.
Likuena 2019 COSAFA Cup squad:

Thabiso Lichaba, Monaheng Ramalefane, Sam Ketsekile

Tšoanelo Koetle, Lesia Thetsane, Kopano Tseka , Nkau Lerotholi, Basia Makepe, Bokang Sello

Sepiriti Malefane, Hlompho Kalake, Tšepo Toloane, Lehlohonolo Fothoane, Jane Thaba-Ntšo, Luciano Matsoso, Tšoarelo Bereng, Tumelo Khutlang

Thapelo Tale, Motebang Sera, Masoabi Nkoto

Tlalane Phahla


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