Lesotho’s 2016 COSAFA Castle Cup adventure came to end on Tuesday after a fortnight in which Moses Maliehe’s young charges showed plenty of good signs for the future.
Despite low-key expectations, Likuena put in a spirited and at times, classy, display to reach the semi-finals of the regional showpiece.
The onus now is on the Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) to provide direction.
Firstly, the position of head coach has to be decided swiftly. If Maliehe, backed by Likuena’s performance in Namibia, is LEFA’s man, then he should be appointed on a permanent basis. Secondly, Likuena’s fledgling crew needs to be given an opportunity to gel and grow.
As things stand, Lesotho’s next international outing will be in September, a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier in Algeria. From there Likuena have no games scheduled until 2017.
Stagnation after such a positive tournament would be tragic, especially given Likuena were penalty kicks away from beating South Africa last Saturday and securing a semi-final berth.
In their three group games Likuena showed a verve and panache not seen in some time, certainly not since the early days of 2014 when, under former caretaker coach Seephephe Matete, Lesotho beat Liberia and Kenya to reach the group stages of qualifying for the 2015 AFCON.
After that bright start Lesotho crumbled necessitating a change and Maliehe’s own short-term appointment last November.
The early signs were lukewarm under Maliehe. Likuena did claim a first international win over a year with a 2-1 victory over Seychelles at Setsoto Stadium in March, however, Lesotho lost its other five matches in 2016: qualifiers against Seychelles and Ethiopia and a trio of friendlies to Botswana and Swaziland.
Namibia was a different story. Likuena were rampant in their opening game two Sundays ago against Mauritius with the dynamic Jane Thaba-Ntšo etching his name into the record books with a 34th second strike, the quickest ever goal in the COSAFA Castle Cup’s 19-year history.
Likuena won 3-0 and Kefuoe Mahula earned himself a man-of-the-match award after a sterling individual performance in the heart of midfield.
Two days later Lesotho executed a fine defensive plan to beat Angola 2-0, a strategy that was exemplified by skipper Basia Makepe walking away with the man-of-the-match award.
The third group game against Malawi was a tactical masterpiece for Maliehe as his charges followed his counterattacking plan to a tee to nick an 84th minute win that sealed Group B and a quarterfinal spot.
Likuena ended the group stage as the only side not to concede and only Zimbabwe and Madagascar, with seven goals, scored more than Lesotho’s six.
Last Saturday’s quarterfinal against South Africa was another heartening display. Despite playing their fourth game in a week against an opponent playing their first, Likuena were not out-matched.
Indeed, Lesotho took the lead in the 19th minute through another eye-catching Thaba-Ntšo strike. South Africa equalised in the 65th minute through Gift Motupa, but, instead of wilting, Likuena could well have stolen the win if Thaba-Ntšo’s break-away header over an advancing Reyaad Pieterse had found the net instead of trickling just wide.
In the end, Likuena lost 4-2 on penalties, ending dreams of an improbable cup win and relegating Lesotho to the Plate competition contested by the four quarterfinal losers.
Lesotho’s opponent was Zambia and Maliehe made several changes to give other players a run.
Regulars Mafa Moremoholo, Daniel Jousse and Mabuti Potloane started from the bench while Sepiriti Malefane, Phafa Tšosane, Montoeli Sonopo and Liteboho Mokhehle were given their chance to shine.
Zambia proved to be strong contestants.
Chipolopolo took the lead through Paul Katema in the 14th minute from a cornerkick; however, Likuena recovered and got an equalising goal a minute before the stroke of halftime through a stunning freekick from 35 yards by Tšosane.
The second half started with a confident Likuena taking the game to Zambia and they deservedly took the lead through a Makepe header in the 54th minute. But, it did not take long for Zambia to equalise. Two minutes later it was 2-2.
The game was locked at 2-2 and seemed headed to penalties until Zambia scored a late winner to send Lesotho home.
But, Likuena can do so with their head held high and, perhaps, with hopes of becoming a more competitive fixture on the international scene.
With a relatively new and young team, Lesotho’s performance at the COSAFA Castle Cup showed signs of improvement and potential.
Thaba-Ntšo ended as Lesotho’s top goalscorer with three goals to his name followed by Makepe with two goals. Kopano Tseka was brave in central defence while the young trio of Mahula, Hlompho Kalake and Tumelo Khutlang return as household names.
Perhaps some of Lesotho’s best performers will earn moves abroad after their performances. But, no matter what happens, the ball is now firmly in LEFA’s court.
Mohlolo rescues point for LDF Ladies
A last-gasp strike by Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Ladies striker ‘Maseriti Mohlolo rescued a point for the Women’s Super League (WSL) champions against Malawi’s Ntopwa in the opener of their CAF Women’s Champions League COSAFA Qualifiers yesterday.
Mohlolo’s goal keeps LDF Ladies in contention to progress to the next round with two teams from the four-team group set to qualify for the semi-finals.
Although LDF Ladies were not outplayed in the game, they missed many chances and their set-pieces left a lot to be desired.
Maybe that can be attributed to a last minute coaching change that saw Pule Khojane replace Lengana Nkhethoa as head coach of a side that won the WSL unbeaten last season.
Speaking after the game, Khojane said even though he realised early on that the Malawian team were tough physically, he still wanted LDF Ladies to play their normal passing game.
In the end, Khojane was left to lament the number of chances his side created but couldn’t convert.
Khojane said that will be a point of emphasis before LDF Ladies step onto the field again tomorrow against Botswana’s Double Action.
Tomorrow’s tie is probably a must-win with the group’s other team being defending champions Green Buffaloes of Zambia and LDF Ladies will need to convert their chances.
“We play with four at the back but with two attacking full backs, most of the time if a team plays long balls like (Ntopwa) we struggle a lot but we don’t change our game. We want to play; we want to go forward.
“That’s why sometimes we made a lot of mistakes when the ball was played high behind our backs but we still wanted to play our game and win. We were just unfortunate not to score more goals but we were playing (well),” Khojane said.
LDF conceded a late goal in the first half and were perhaps lucky to go into the half time break just a goal down.
Before Ntopwa took the lead they were awarded a penalty for a reckless foul in the box but they missed the chance to open the scoring.
LDF recovered in the second that but could not find a way into the goals.
It looked as if Lesotho’s representatives at the regional showpiece would begin their campaign with a defeat. However, Mohlolo rescued the Lesotho champions when she latched onto a poor back pass from a defender. She stole the ball and levelled matters with less than three minutes to go.
There was no time for the LDF to get a winner and they had to settle for a point in their opening group game.
They will now be looking to improve and sharpen their scoring boots for tomorrow’s showdown against Double Action of Botswana.
LDF Ladies fixtures:
LDF Ladies 1-1 Ntopwa
Double Action vs. LDF Ladies
Green Buffaloes vs. LDF Ladies
Makepe quits Likuena duty
Likuena captain Basia Makepe has retired from international football after leading the senior national team to silver at the recent COSAFA Cup tournament held in Durban, South Africa.
This was the first time since 2000 that Likuena had reached the final of the regional tournament where they lost 1-0 to Zambia.
The Leribe born defender will go down as one of the most decorated defenders in the country having represented his country 87 times and winning several accolades in the process.
Makepe’s leadership skills were spotted from a young age, where he was appointed captain of the national U-20 team, Makoanyane XI by Leslie Notši.
He led by example as Makoanyane XI qualified for the CAF Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations in 2011, which in those days was knowns as the African Youth Championship, where the side eliminated countries like Mozambique, South Africa and Kenya to qualify for the tournament.
Makepe won his first Likuena cap in a 2-1 victory over Eswatini during an international friendly match played at Setsoto Stadium in October 2012 and went on to make the squad for the 2013 COSAFA Cup in Zambia.
However, Makepe was an unused substitute at the tournament as Notši went for the tried and tested defenders such as Moitheri Ntobo, Tlali Maile and Thabo Masualle as Likuena reached the semi-finals.
He would later be appointed the Likuena captain as coach Moses Maliehe went for a younger generation at the 2016 COSAFA Cup in Namibia, where Likuena won all their group stage matches but were eliminated in the quarterfinals by the Shakes Mashaba-coached Bafana Bafana.
Makepe has not only enjoyed success with the national team but won several domestic trophies at Lioli, where he was also handed the captaincy after joining from boyhood club and now defunct Joy FC.
After leaving Lioli, he joined the police outfit, LMPS FC, where he is employed as a police officer and believes he still has a few years left in his tank playing for Simunye, as the police outfit is affectionately known.
“I think I have had a career that you can say was decent and can be accepted as satisfying to the football fraternity,” Makepe said.
“For me I can say it was a good career that has had challenges here and there as well as successes here and there, which started way back with the Under-20 team.
“With Makoanyane XI, we became the second team to qualify for the Africa Youth Championship and fortunately I had the honour of being the captain of that team.”
The 32-year-old, who has come up against the best forwards on the continent from the young Mohamed Salah during the 2011 Under-20 Africa Youth Championship to the likes of Victor Osimhen, Riyad Mahrez, has singled out former Burkina Faso striker Jonathan Pitroipa as the most troublesome opponent he has faced.
“I have come up against the best from this continent from the likes of Salah and others, but I think Pitroipa of Burkina Faso was the most troublesome forward I have come up against,” he said.
“I think the successes with the senior team especially as the captain are many having reached the COSAFA semi-finals a number of times with Likuena and twice going unbeaten in the group stage in Zambia 2013 and Namibia 2016 respectively.
“Being the captain of the team was the cherry on top and getting bronze medal in 2018. I end my chapter with Likuena having played a role in helping the team get to the final for the first time in 23 years,” he said.
Makepe admitted that the 2016 edition of the COSAFA tournament was very special for him as it was the first he captained the side and they won all their group stage matches.
“The COSAFA tournament in Namibia in 2016 stands out for me especially that game against South Africa, which unfortunately we lost on penalties, but it was a good tournament overall,” he said.
“All in all, I think it was a very satisfying career with the national team though you always want more as a player. I’m happy to bow out having helped Likuena re-write history. It’s a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life.
“I’m very grateful to all who have supported me throughout my career, my teammates, coaches, administrators and the supporters, who were always by our side and of course the Lesotho Football Association for giving me the opportunities to lead the national team,” he said.
Notši picks squad for Ivory Coast tie
Lesotho interim coach Leslie Notši has named a provisional 27-man squad for the side’s final 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier against Ivory Coast which is scheduled for September 9.
By virtue of being the hosts of next year’s showpiece, Ivory Coast have already qualified for the tournament while Likuena no longer have a chance of joining them after back-to-back defeats with Zambia in June.
With nothing to play with but pride, Likuena can draw inspiration from their performance when the sides met in their first Group H encounter last June which ended in a goalless draw.
The match was played in Soweto and Lesotho’s memorably dogged display against their much more fancied opponents is something Notši’s charges can look to for inspiration.
Several new faces could feature in that return game in Ivory Coast.
Fresh off last month’s COSAFA Cup final display, Notši has called up some fresh blood to bolster the squad such as Khubetsoana Kamela, Tšeliso Botsane and Teboho Letsema who have each represented Lesotho’s junior teams but are yet to make the leap to the senior side.
Notši’s squad also includes the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) trio of Morena Moloi, Lebesa Lebesa and Victor Ferreira who have been called up to the national team set-up for the first time in their careers.
The most surprising inclusion is perhaps that of Ferreira who spent the majority of last season making cameo appearances from the LDF substitutes’ bench.
Speaking with LEFA’s media team, Notši said the new faces are intended to give him depth going into the 2024 African Nations Championships (CHAN) qualifiers which start in September and are reserved only for locally based players.
It means the handful of Likuena players plying their trade outside the country will be ineligible to play. The first round of the 2024 CHAN qualifiers is set to begin from September 22 to 24.
“We all know that AFCON qualification is out of our reach and the bigger picture is to prepare the team for the CHAN qualifiers, which are coming very soon,” Notši said.
“Most of these boys have come through the ranks playing for our junior national team and it’s the association’s investment that needs to be given a chance to grow,” the Lesotho mentor added.
The 27-man Likuena squad will be trimmed down to a manageable size towards the side’s departure to Ivory Coast, but the core of the players that went to the COSAFA Cup in July are expected to retain their places in the team.
Likuena have a busy schedule ahead with the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers also in the pipeline this year. Notši needs to have as strong a team as possible to compete in all the competitions.
Likuena provisional squad:
Sekhoane Moerane, Teboho Ratibisi, Mosoeu Seahlolo.
Rethabile Senkoto, Motlomelo Mkhwanazi, Mohlomi Makhetha, Rethabile Mokokoane, Rethabile Rasethuntša, Lebesa Lebesa, ‘Mellere Lebetša.
Lisema Lebokollane, Khubetsoana Kamele, Tšeliso Botsane, Lehlohonolo Fothoane, Thabo Lesaoana, Tumelo Makha, Koenehelo Mothala, Tšepang Sefali, Victor Ferreira, Tshwarelo Bereng, Teboho Letsema, Neo Mokhachance, Tšepo Toloane, Morena Moloi.
Thabiso Mari, Jane Thabantšo, Motebang Sera, Katleho Makateng.
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