Sohle-Sohle are back

Sohle-Sohle are back

MASERU – As soon as the referee blew his final whistle at Setsoto Stadium on Sunday, Lesotho Defence Force’s (LDF) players rushed onto the pitch in uncontainable joy.
They had achieved the improbable and ended the longest trophy drought in the club’s proud and successful history.
Their ecstasy, therefore, was understandable.
Last week when the draw for the weekend’s Lesotho National Insurance Group (LNIG) Top 8 finals was finalised, few had pegged ‘Sohle-Sohle’ as likely champions.
Instead, their eyes floated to league champions Bantu, two-time beaten LNIG Top 8 finalists Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) and defending LNIG champions Matlama.
LDF, who are fifth in the league and had never reached an LNIG Top 8 final, were outsiders at best.
It didn’t matter.

Underrated and overlooked, LDF stood tall as the best team over the weekend as they outlasted Bantu in the semi-finals on Saturday and then overcame rivals LCS in Sunday’s final.
At last, after a decade of tears, ‘Sohle-Sohle’ were crowned the 2019 LNIG Top 8 champions and they had a cool M200 000 to shower their party celebrations at Ratjomose.
It is the first time LDF have won a trophy since they claimed the now defunct Buddie Top 4 in 2008 with a team that still featured assistant coach Malefetsane Pheko.
Another former LDF icon is head coach Motheo Mohapi and on Sunday, he finally led the club back to the Promised Land with his first trophy since returning as coach in 2013.
In the intervening years, the team has undergone a major transformation as Mohapi hustled to return the once feared ‘Sohle-Sohle’ to winning ways.

Slowly the team shifted from old players to young and Sunday was the culmination of the hard work.
“The fact that we won after such a long time is very pleasing to the entire team, we managed to put a smile on many faces, our fans included,” influential midfielder Tšepo Toloane said.
“We are very happy that we have won a trophy,” his teammate Thabo Mongali added.
“It is a big achievement that we reached through sweat and tears,” the defender said.
“We were under pressure to win something because we did not win anything for a long time now; we were committed as players and we told ourselves that we were going all out to chase the win.”

Mongali continued: “In the past three (league) games, our players were available which made it hard for the coach to choose (a starting line-up) and that lifted our morale as a team.
“That is why our way of playing has changed. We came into the tournament with such high morale.”
LDF certainly showed their commitment in a penalty shootout win over pre-tournament favourites Bantu on Saturday.
They also seemed to revel in their underdog status while they stunned ‘A Matšo Matebele’ and the following day – their confidence even higher – LDF comprehensively outclassed LCS with Koete Mohloai and Thabang Rabi scoring the goals.

“There was nothing different in our preparations for these games, we just practised like we always do and put the same effort we put when preparing for matches,” Mohapi said.
“We had all our players available this time around unlike the previous games where some of our players were out due to injuries.”
Mohapi’s players echoed his words.
“I cannot say we did things differently this time around,” Toloane said.
“It is also about luck, we were lucky and the other contributing factor is that we saw that we are close to winning (the trophy) after we won the semi-finals and we only had to finish up the job.”

It is all a different feeling for a side that had reached its lowest point in 2014 when LDF missed out on a top four league finish for the first time in two decades.
That disappointment ushered the departure of the final leftovers from the club’s golden times such as Lire Phiri, Molefe Lekoekoe and Pheko.
Although the pain didn’t end as LDF finished eighth in 2016 and sixth in 2017, Mohapi meticulously improved the quality of LDF’s squad.

The masterstroke turned out to be the luring of Toloane from Liphakoe three years ago. The former Lesotho Under-20 captain has blossomed and he now leads a strong and younger core of players such as Rabi, Mongali, Lepheana Mofolo and Likano Mphuthi.
Unsurprisingly, the main tune coming out of the LDF camp was this could be the start of good things for the club.
In the Econet Premier League, the Ratjomose side are only outside the coveted top four places on goal difference with five games to play.
A trophy and a top four place would be quite a season.

“After winning this trophy, of course, we always hope for the best, and our aim now is to win all the remaining matches in the league,” Mohapi said.
“Even though the league title is out of our reach now, we have to make sure that our team gets into the top four when the league finishes,” he added.
As for Toloane, he has no doubts LDF can match the likes of Matlama, Bantu and Lioli who have dominated local football over the past decade.
“We are now hungry to win more trophies for our team, we are also looking forward to winning the league in the coming future,” Toloane said.

“(Matlama, Bantu and Lioli) have many supporters, it is not that we are underrated, we know people do not talk about us a lot but it does not make any difference because we know that we are at the same level with those district teams (Matlama, Bantu and Lioli),” he added.
Now the question is: Can the LDF build on this success? Can ‘Sohle-Sohle’ retake the throne of Lesotho football from Matlama, Bantu and Lioli?
“We know the league is out of our hands for this season so we will now focus on making it into the top four,” Mongali said.
“We are hungry to win more and more cups to come,” he added.
“This is just the beginning for us.”

Nkheli Liphoto

 

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