Maliehe welcomes Swaziland draw

Maliehe welcomes Swaziland draw

Maseru – Lesotho national football coach, Moses Maliehe (Pictured), has welcomed yesterday’s draw to face Swaziland at this year’s COSAFA Cup. The 14-team regional showpiece will take place from May 27 to June 9 in Limpopo, South Africa, and the tournament draw was held in Johannesburg. Just as last year, Lesotho – as one of COSAFA’s six top ranked nations – will start its campaign in the quarterfinals. It means Likuena will avoid the draining round robin group stage reserved for the bottom eight teams.

Moreover, Lesotho has dodged tournament favourites South Africa, Zambia and defending champions Zimbabwe in the last eight pairings. Maliehe admitted the draw could have been worse but insisted Likuena would not overlook Swaziland as they go in search of their first-ever international title. Swaziland is ranked 131st in the world by FIFA, Lesotho is 149th.

“It is a good draw because it is fair, but you cannot underestimate Swaziland,” Maliehe said. “They are a very good team and even on the newly released (FIFA) ranking they are above us, so they are good.” The 2018 COSAFA Cup, which is being billed as an appetiser for the FIFA World Cup that begins a few days afterwards, presents Likuena their best shot at glory with just three wins required to capture the trophy.

However, despite avoiding the big guns, Lesotho has a poor recent record against Swaziland going without a win in the teams’ last three meetings, the last of which was a 2-0 defeat at the 2015 COSAFA Cup. Lesotho vs. Swaziland head-to-head (last six games). Maliehe said the teams’ familiarity would add another spicy ingredient to the match-up. “We have played them before and of course we have won some matches and they have won some,” he said. “They are not strangers to us; we know them and they know us as well. We know each other.”

The COSAFA Cup is celebrating its 21st year since it was first played in 1997 and yesterday’s quarterfinal draw served up some interesting ties. Record five-time champions Zimbabwe face a potentially tricky quarterfinal as they will meet the winner of Group B which contains Angola, Botswana, Mauritius and Malawi. Hosts South Africa, meanwhile, will take on the victor of Group A which comprises Mozambique, Madagascar, Comoros Islands and Seychelles while the last quarterfinal is a tie between 2015 winners Namibia and four-time champions Zambia.

Despite being unable to call itself a member of the COSAFA Cup winners’ club, Lesotho has at least enjoyed success at the championships in recent years. In 2013 in Zambia, Lesotho swept through the group stage before eventually falling to Zimbabwe in the semi-finals. In 2016 in Namibia the side topped its group once more before falling on penalties in the quarterfinals to eventual champions South Africa. Then, last year in South Africa, Likuena were again felled by the tournament’s winners when they lost 4-3 to Zimbabwe in the semis.

The recent run boosts confidence, but first Likuena will have to get past Swaziland. “We know (Swaziland) depend on their strength and pace, they also know our passing game, so it is going to be interesting,” Maliehe said.

“We will see on the day which team has planned better,” the Lesotho mentor added.

“But, remember, even if you can have a good plan, you are not playing alone. You are playing against people who also want to win.”

Luciah Phahla

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