MASERU – Lesotho faces a do-or-die acid test against African giants Ivory Coast in Johannesburg, South Africa, this afternoon. The match is Likuena’s second of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers and the side’s first meeting with the West Africa nation who are also hosts of next year’s AFCON.
Likuena go into the game needing a positive result after a 2-0 loss to Comoros in their opening qualifier last Friday. A loss would leave Lesotho already playing catch up in Group H where Ivory Coast, Zambia and Comoros all have three points while Likuena sit at the bottom with zero points.
Speaking ahead of today’s game, Likuena head coach Veselin Jelusic said he expects Ivory Coast to dominate ball possession, create chances and put his side under pressure because of their superior quality and professionalism.
“As you know, all the players we are facing are professionals who play for strong European clubs and leagues, and due to their quality, we can expect their dominance in terms of ball possession and great pressure on our goal throughout the game,” Likuena’s Serbian coach said.
Because Ivory Coast are hosts of next year’s finals, they already have a spot at the 2023 AFCON which means only one of Lesotho, Comoros and Zambia will join them. The race started last Friday with Ivory Coast beating Zambia 3-1 and Comoros defeating Lesotho. Zambia then edged Comoros 2-1 on Tuesday.
Velusic said today Likuena will rely mostly on counterattacks and his tactics will focus on neutralising the Elephants’ attacking prowess.
Ivory Coast coach Jean-Louis Gasset has named a strong squad for these qualifiers with Crystal Palace forward Wilfred Zaha leading the Elephants squad while highly-rated Ajax Amsterdam striker Sebastien Haller is also expected to play.
“In such a situation what we can do is defend in an organised and persistent manner and try to neutralise their attack as much as possible, and at the same time try to use some of the opportunities for counterattacks,” Velusic said.
Likuena will be hoping to pull off their plans with striker Katleho Makateng who missed last Friday’s game against Comoros. The recently crowned Vodacom Premier League golden boot winner has been training with the team in South Africa but Jelusic said Likuena’s coaching team still have to decide whether he is fit enough to face Ivory Coast.
“Unfortunately, due to injury, Makateng was not able to train with us until two days ago, that means caution on his inclusion into the team. It is possible he will come into the game but we are still going to decide on that,” Velusic said.
In the end, today’s match will be a valuable test for Lesotho against players who are playing for some of the best clubs in world football. For many it might be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“We cannot complain about the spirit of our players,” Velusic said.
“We must maintain focus and tactical discipline throughout the game because professional players immediately punish any naivety in defence.”
Bokamoso Dolphins, Trailblazers win big
MASERU – Bokamoso Dolphins and Bloemfontein’s Trailblazers were the big winners as the annual Winter Basketball Tournament made its long-awaited return last weekend.
The invitational basketball competition was last held in 2019 because of the Covid-19 pandemic and it returned to life at the Lehakoe Recreation Centre last Saturday and Sunday.
In total, almost 20 teams took part in the festivities and, when all was said and done, Bokamoso Dolphins were holding the women’s trophy while Trailblazers ran out winners in the men’s competition.
Dolphins were one of five sides fielded by the Bokamoso Basketball Programme which is headed by Faku Masupha and has been at the forefront of developing young players in Lesotho for the past decade.
In the women’s final, Dolphins came out victorious in a grudge match against Lerotholi Polyethnic and Masupha was full of praise for his young ladies’ team afterwards.
“I am pleased with the performance against a good team that gave us a run for their money,” Masupha said.
It was a high intensity women’s final and one reason Masupha pin-pointed was the fact Fokothi have several players in their side who came through Bokamoso’s ranks and have inside knowledge of Bokamoso’s fast paced style.
Amongst those Fokothi players from Bokamoso’s development structures was Selloane Mohale who Masupha complimented for combining well with her teammates.
Mohale and her teammates took a young Dolphins side by surprise in the opening stages.
“I think in the first half the players had anxiety. It was bad, the players couldn’t take instructions,” Masupha said.
“Fokothi have energy and they are one of the most supported teams in the league and most of their players have come through the Bokamoso development pipeline,” he said.
However, for an experimental and young team, Masupha could not have asked for a better response and the moment their combinations clicked, Dolphins dominated the second half and eventually claimed the victory.
Bokamoso are restructuring and integrating young players to refresh ahead of the new season.
Dolphins fielded many young players who are likely to form the core of the Bokamoso women’s team when the season starts.
“It’s a good team with a mix of experience and young players. We are restructuring to give it a bit of energy, the players we have are now young parents and can no longer cope with long hours,” Masupha said.
All in all, the Bokamoso programme had five teams competing in this year’s tournament – Sharks, Badboys, Rebels, Dolphins and Alumni. Three of them – Sharks, Badboys and Alumni – were knocked out in the group stages while Rebels fell one step before the men’s final when they lost by one point to KTA All Stars.
Masupha said his players showed character and winning a trophy from the weekend’s action is just the icing on the cake as Bokamoso head into the new basketball season.
“In a couple of months’ time I believe they will be competing for a championship,” Masupha said.
Why tennis prodigies are valued so highly
MASERU – 17-year-old Kamohelo Khethisa and 20-year-old Lerato Mathibela have been tennis partners for as long as they can remember.
Both starlets are in the Cosmos Tennis Academy and are regarded as the academy’s top prospects.
The duo was paired together at the African Union Sports Council (AUSC) Region 5 Games last year and two weeks ago they left the country to compete in a junior tennis championship in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
It was the first time Khethisa and Mathibela went to a competition to compete for International Tennis Federation (ITF) junior ranking points and the pair showed just why they are so highly-rated.
Khethisa and Mathibela finished third when they teamed up in the doubles competition.
In the singles they dominated as both advanced to the final where Khethisa got the better of his pal, Mathibela.
Khethisa opened up their bond and said they are brothers.
Khethisa said Mathibela usually wins when the two meet, but he was determined not to lose to his older brother this time around.
“The first match I played at the tournament was a warm up because it wasn’t my first time at a tournament, I had knowledge on what to do in the first round, it is tough,” Khethisa said.
“I played in the quarter-finals then we went to series and in the semi-finals, we played well together and met each other in the final,” he said.
“We always play against each other but he beats me most of the time but I told myself that I am going to play (my best),” he continued.
Khethisa lauded Mathibela for being a good partner saying they talk regularly and give each other tips. The two will once again be paired together in the Southern African Christian Schools Sports Association (SACSSA) games later this year.
Khethisa said they are hoping to do better than they did last year when they won a bronze medal.
“I motivate him and build him up. I tell him ‘I love you’ more than anything, ‘you are my spirit’ because he is more powerful than I am. The more I build him up, the more we become too much for the opposing players. I know my worth. I am good at the net. He is good with serving, he is a good partner,” he said.
He said after watching the main draw finals they saw weaknesses in the players but the difference is the number of tournaments they attend to prepare themselves.
“You have to go to a lot of tournaments to become the best player, to have more ITF points, there are tournaments that I can’t go to, there is one in Pretoria,” Khethisa said.
“We can’t go because we don’t have points but because we have started, I can promise good work, effort and good results. We are working hard.”
Boxing medal hopes extinguished
MASERU – Lesotho’s hopes for boxing silverware at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England are over after the country’s boxers all failed to get past the round of 16 stage.
The losses extended Lesotho’s medal drought for another four years with the country’s last boxing success at the Games coming in 2006 when Moses Kopo won silver at the Melbourne edition in Australia.
As usual, the root of Lesotho’s problems was poor preparation which led to the downfall of Retšelisitsoe Kolobe, Moroke Mokhotho, Qhobosheane Mohlerepe, Phomolo Lengola and Arena Pakela as each suffered heartache one step before the quarterfinals.
Speaking to thepost yesterday, the Lesotho Boxing Association’s (LEBA) spokesperson, Rethabile Mohale, said the team’s preparations were so bad that even meeting for training was a challenge.
Associations and athletes have always been clear about what needs to be done for them to be ready for major international competitions like the Commonwealth Games, but the government sinks to new lows every year.
Even after arriving in England, athletes were complaining privately that their needs were not being met.
Lengola, who fights in the 51-54kg weight category, was the last Lesotho boxer to fight and he lost 4-1 on points to Owain Harris-Allan from Wales on Tuesday.
On the same day, Pakela was also eliminated in the round of 16 as he lost 5-0 on points to Aidan Walsh of Northern Ireland in the light middleweight category (67-71kg).
Pakela started the competition in the first round where he defeated Isaac Zebra of Uganda 4-1 on points, but his joy was short-lived.
Despite their heartbreak, Mohale commended the boxers for their performances in the face of the challenges they faced.
“The performance was good even though we are out of the Commonwealth Games as boxing Lesotho,” Mohale said. “We cannot hide behind what didn’t happen, we have to say what the performance was. We used the public’s funds and we are coming back with nothing, but what is important is what people on top did to make sure we trained the same as those we were fighting against,” he said.
The fighters could have done much better with better preparations, Mohale was clearly saying.
“To just go to training and meet as the team was a big problem (and our) camp happened late,” he said.
“Our preparation was bad, if you look at their first fights, they won, but in the second fights they lost but they were competing. We were lacking strong preparations.”
Mohale was also not happy with the refereeing which he felt was unfair in two fights.
One involved Lesotho’s 2016 Olympian, Moroke Mokhotho, who lost on Referee Stops Contest (RSC) when he was on points on the scorecard.
Earlier this year Mokhotho who fights in the 54-57kg weight category, announced he would be retiring from international competitions after the Commonwealth Games to focus on development of young boxers and his failure was perhaps the biggest disappointment.
The other two boxers who failed to go beyond the round of 16 are Qhobosheane Mohlerepe and Retšelisitsoe Kolobe who lost to Canada’s Wyatt Sanford and Jake Todd from Wales respectively.
Mohlerepe, who fights in the 60-63.5kg weight category, had won his preliminary fight against Atmatzidis Odysseas from Cyprus.
Kolobe, like Mokhotho, lost his bout on RSC.
A lot of Lesotho’s athletes at the Commonwealth Games complained about poor preparations prior to leaving for Birmingham with some saying they had not been to tournaments in months and
had only trained locally against their counterparts.
Even after arriving in England, athletes were still crying that they were lacking things they needed to compete properly.
In other events at the Games, Mokulubete Makatisi clocked a personal best of 2:36:05 hours and finished eighth in the women’s marathon.
Finishing in the top 10 has been described as a good performance Makatisi can build on ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympics.
On Tuesday, Mojela Koneshe was unfortunate not to proceed to the semi-finals of the men’s 100 metres when he finished fourth clocking 10.46 seconds in his race. Koneshe was racing against seasoned sprinters including South Africa’s Akani Simbine. In the 800 metres, ‘Manqabang Tsibela finished sixth clocking 2:13.34 but it was not enough for her to proceed to the next round.
In the men’s marathon, Lebenya Nkoka and Tšepo Mathibelle clocked season’s best times as they finished 15th in 2:32:52, and 17th in 2:38:52 respectively. Motlokoa Nkhabutlane did not finish the race.
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