Dark horses in Likuena squad

Dark horses in Likuena squad

MASERU – Last week Lesotho national coach Thabo Senong called up a provisional 29-man squad for two 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers against Benin at the end of March.
Senong is expected to trim the squad to 20 players closer to the back-to-back ties, so while there are new faces in the team, there is no guarantee they will make the final cut.

Senong said he picked the players in his squad based on current form for their respective clubs and their character, on and off the field.
Generally, Senong kept the core of the team that played against Nigeria and Sierra Leone last year in Lesotho’s opening pair of Group L qualifying games but some names have raised eyebrows because they are not active at their clubs.

When Senong was appointed as Likuena coach last August he promised to give everyone who impressed him a chance in the national team.
It is a promise he has remained true to with new names always popping up in his Lesotho squads.
Senong has also dropped players that didn’t take their chances when given the opportunity.

Lesotho has been grouped with Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Benin in Group L, and currently sit third in the group with one point. Only two teams per group will make it to the AFCON finals in Cameroon next January.
Likuena will start their final camp ahead of the Benin matches in mid-March and Senong announced that part of their training camp will be in Johannesburg, South Africa, where Lesotho will play two friendly matches against a Premier Soccer League (PSL) team and a National First Division (NFD) side.

Before the camp in Johannesburg, Likuena’s locally based players will train together three times a week for the next four weeks. During that time Likuena are expected to play friendly matches in Bloemfontein.
Below is a brief profile of some of the players making their first appearances in Senong’s Likuena books.

Monaheng Ramalefane (Matlama)
Ramalefane needs no introduction and is no stranger to the national team but he is being called up for the first time by Senong since he took over as Likuena coach last August.
Matlama’s number one shot stopper is a former national Under-20 goalkeeper and was voted goalkeeper of the tournament at the 2017 COSAFA Under-20 Championship in Zambia.

The 20-year-old was given his Matlama debut in 2017 by former ‘Tse Putsoa’ and Likuena head coach Moses Maliehe. At the time, Maliehe said he was very impressed by Ramalefane and his acrobatic skills. He was taken aback by Ramalefane’s confidence between the sticks despite his tender age.
Maliehe trusted Ramalefane with Matlama’s number one shirt and the young keeper has not looked back since.

There is a growing confidence amongst those who know Ramalefane – including his keeper coach at Matlama, Shokhoe Matsoai – that he has what it takes to be Lesotho’s number one keeper. Ramalefane will have to battle Ntsane Lichaba and Sekhoane Moerane for a Likuena first team spot.

Tieho Ntulo (Lioli)
Ntulo is having a great debut season at Lioli. He arrived last year in August and has regularly impressed and his reward is a first call-up to the national team.

He predominantly occupies the central defensive midfield position and is described by his Lioli coach Morena Ramorebodi as one of the smartest players he has seen.

Ramorebodi is said to have been impressed by Ntulo at the first sight seeing him play. Ntulo’s best attributes are his ability to read the game, his anticipation and shielding the defence. Although he has impressed in defensive midfield, Ntulo has not been playing in that position for a long time.

However, Senong said he has no worries as Bantu’s Motlomelo Mkhwanazi can operate in midfield if needed. Whether Ntulo will make Likuena’s final cut next month remains to be seen.

Luciano Matsoso (Lioli)
Matsoso is another name that is well-known in the national team. A once-exciting player, Matsoso went from being a regular in the Likuena starting line-up to being dropped completely after his struggles to get game time at Black Leopards in South Africa all of last year.

Matsoso is back in the country with Lioli and has been recalled to the national team for the first time since he was dropped after the 2019 COSAFA Cup in Durban last July.
At Lioli, Matsoso has a chance to revive his club and Likuena career. Perhaps this is a start for him.

Tlalane Phahla


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