Matlama shines

Matlama shines

MASERU – After weeks of waiting, the inaugural edition of the Econet Soccer Spectacular finally came to life last Saturday and it did not disappoint.
Of course, this was especially true for all Matlama fans that danced home as champions but, all around, there was a joyful vibe at Setsoto Stadium as the preseason showpiece — much like spring sunshine — ushered in the summer heaven that is the league season.

There was a refreshing freshness to the whole day — maybe because there was no Bantu or Lioli or maybe because of the attacking football which saw eight goals in three matches — and, in the end, there was a collective thumbs up from fans in attendance.
For them, the Econet Soccer Spectacular had somehow been a long time in coming since it was launched at the start of the month by Econet, the Premier League and Lesotho Football Association to help top-flight clubs raise funds before the new season.

For three weeks, all 14 clubs vied to get into the four-team tournament and for three weeks there was non-stop campaigning on radio and social media.
The results were surprising as Matlama, Majantja, Liphakoe and Linare made the final cut and shock as Bantu and Lioli — the league’s current royalty — didn’t.
Any doubts, however, were erased by Saturday — by the time fans started streaming in for the 11:00 kick off, the excitement was palpable as followers of Matlama, Majantja, Liphakoe and Linare insisted this was their time to shine.

The tournament’s opening game, on paper, was an interesting one.
Matlama, who finished fourth in last season’s Econet Premier League, would begin their new era under new coach Thabile Secker against Majantja — the newly-promoted Mohale’s Hoek side who were league champions in 1995 but hadn’t been in the top-flight since 2012.
The difference in quality, however, was quickly visible.

While Majantja looked half asleep, Matlama were fresh as the early morning breeze and breezed into an early lead.
By the end of the game it was 4-0 as Tse Putsoa’, who have designs on winning the league title this season, showed a gulf in class between themselves and Majantja who were playing their first competitive game under their new South African coach Ramoshoeu Kabelo Malapane.

On the evidence of the clash Malapane has work to do before Majantja kick-off their Econet Premier League campaign against Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) on September 15.
Matlama looked sharper and, filled with Lesotho internationals, ‘Tse Putsoa’ looked more comfortable on the big stage.
There was no time to catch any breath as the second semi-final followed quickly afterward as fallen giants Linare took the field to face Liphakoe.
It was a closer encounter between two sides that finished ninth and tenth in the league last season, but it was Leribe’s Tse Tala’ who prevailed 2-0 over their Quthing challengers.
As fans waited for the final, there was genuine intrigue as to whether Linare would upset Matlama in a throwback finale to the good old days when ‘Tse Tala’ and ‘Tse Putsoa’ were Lesotho’s giants.
Once again, however, Matlama were too strong.

‘Tse Putsoa’ sealed a 2-0 win to claim the first-ever Econet Soccer Spectacular title – another historic moment for the country’s most successful club.
Secker’s side looked especially potent in attack.
One of Matlama’s main problems last season was a lack of goalscoring. Despite an attacking department that included Phafa Tšosane, Mabuti Potloane, Motebang Sera and Jane Thaba-Ntšo, ‘Tse Putsoa’ only scored 32 goals in the league, the fewest total of last year’s top four sides.

By scoring six goals in one day, Matlama showed signs of evolution under Secker.
Another reason for their impressive display is the strike-force has had time to gel.
Lebajoa Mosehlenyane, Lehlomela Ramabele and Katleho Moleko all moved to Pitso Ground in January and while Mosehlenyane blossomed into a valuable weapon during Matlama’s run to the Lesotho National Insurance Group (LNIG) Top 8 trophy in April, his fellow new-boys struggled.

Last Saturday, the side’s penetration came from all angles.
It all made Secker very pleased. “I am satisfied with way we played because the players played according to our game plan and stuck to instructions,” he said.
“What is important for us is being a unit when playing and attacking. I am really proud of the performance from the players and our approach in general,” he added.
While one can argue that, in Majantja and Linare, Matlama faced sides that may end up as mid-table fodder in this year’s Econet Premier League campaign, their attacking intent and structure were still there for all to see.

Secker’s side looked organised and aggressive and, if the weekend’s performance is anything to go by, they are credible bets to challenge for the league title and defend their LNIG Top 8 crown.
It is a positive feeling Secker said he hopes his team will carry into the new season which for ‘Tse Putsoa’, ironically, starts against Linare on September 16 at the Maputsoe DiFA Stadium.
As for the Econet Soccer Spectacular, it is hopefully here to stay.

Nkheli Lipho

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