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LCS seek to defend Alliance Winter title

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MASERU – After months of waiting, Mpitsa Marai and his Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) charges will finally get a taste of live action when they defend their Alliance Winter Tournament this weekend at Setsoto Stadium.
‘Masheshena’ go into the four-team pre-season showdown as two-time defending champions after outclassing Matlama in last year’s final and conquering the 2016 edition.
This time around, LCS have been drawn to face ‘Tse Putsoa’ in the semi-finals and, if they progress, ‘Masheshena’ will go for a treble of Alliance crowns against the winner between Lioli and Swallows in Sunday’s final.

For Marai, the Alliance Winter Challenge is an opportunity to assess his side ahead of the 2018/19 Econet Premier League season which kicks off on September 8.
This weekend’s tournament is the fourth edition of a competition that has since its inception in 2015 has given the three Alliance sponsored Premiership teams – LCS, Matlama and Lioli – and one invitee – this year Swallows – the chance to gauge their strengths before diving into the league campaign.
This year will be no different, Marai said.

“The (Alliance) Winter Challenge is very important, we will get the chance to see our new players’ performance on the pitch,” he told thepost.
“We will also weigh ourselves,” Marai added.

“Through the Winter Challenge we will see where to improve. We are going to play big teams like Lioli and Matlama so it is safe to say it is not going to be a walk in the park. We will look at how we have built our team; even players who did not play last season will get a chance this weekend.”
The urgency around LCS has also increased after they flunked a top four league finish last season meaning they will miss October’s showpiece Independence Cup for only the third time in the last 12 years.

Indeed, once the country’s dominant side as they romped to four league titles in six seasons between 2007 and 2012, ‘Masheshena’ have now gone six years without touching a trophy.
Marai said LCS are determined to remedy last season’s mistakes and get back into title contention.
As a result, not only has pre-season training been particularly rigorous as Marai whips his team into shape, ‘Masheshena’ have also been busy head-hunting players to help their cause.
One area to fix is their striking department.

Last season LCS only scored 31 goals in 24 league games, the lowest total amongst the top six sides.
More firepower would perhaps help turn their draws into wins. Last season Marai’s side had seven stalemates, a total that was only surpassed by Majantja, Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LPMS) and Sefotha-fotha.

“This is our fourth week in preparations for the new season and we have five new players; their deals are not yet final, but I believe before the end of this week everything will be final,” Marai said.
“We want to maintain a 28-man squad, so if five players join and five players will be expected to leave, but for now, all decisions are not yet done.”
Marai said an injection of fresh blood is crucial if LCS are to achieve their season’s goals.

“New players are very important as they will help reinforce the team, the competition within the team and the performance will also change,” he explained.
“Our target for next season is to get into the top four. Last season we did not succeed due to internal challenges and we ended up in fifth place.”
Two players, however, will be unavailable for this weekend’s action although it will be for differing reasons.
Striker Mark Tahayim will miss out as he is still recovering from an injury.

Hopolang Mohlalefi, on the other hand, has been AWOL for four weeks as he tries to force a move to Lioli.
“(Mohlalefi) explained to me that he wants to join Lioli but the transfer is yet to be done,” Marai said.

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Lifofane in dreamland

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Lifofane are enjoying their best top-flight season since winning promotion in 2019.

The Butha-Buthe side are seventh in the Vodacom Premier League after a four-match unbeaten run and a win over relegation-threatened Manonyane on Sunday could see them catapult into the top six and within touching distance of an improbable top four finish.

The roots of Lifofane’s success can partly be traced back to 2020 when they shocked the country by capturing the Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) Top 4 tournament.

The Buthe-Buthe outfit bagged M195 000 for winning the knockout competition in Matšonyane and that money has helped the upstart club progress.

Lifofane were able to buy training equipment and gear to improve their on-field product and, off the field, some money was saved to cover the team’s food and transport costs on away days.

Five years later and Lifofane are reaping the benefits of their prudent management.

Their management choices include the hiring of Katiso Mojakhomo as coach in March last year and his arrival has been a home run – Lifofane have developed into a disciplined, well-oiled machine this season.

Mojakhomo is one of Lesotho’s most successful coaches having won back-to-back league titles in 2007 and 2008 with the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) and his experience has allowed Lifofane to punch above their weight which was perfectly epitomised in their last two matches, a pair of 1-1 draws with Matlama and defending champions Bantu.

Both opponents were traditional giants desperately chasing the league title but Lifofane matched them blow for blow.

Mojakhomo said he is delighted with the improvement he has seen in his charges but there is still room to grow.

“It is our expectation to see the team at the top by the end of this Premier League season and we are going to work as hard as we can to make this happen,” he said.

Lifofane, of course, are not the league’s first surprise package.

Many clubs have had a good season or two before fading away.

Sundawana and Sky Battalion are just two teams over the past decade that have taken the elite league by storm for one campaign only to vanish from memory.

Mojakhomo said Lifofane’s vision extends beyond just doing well this season.

He said the club are determined not to allow their smaller stature to hinder their ambitions of establishing a long-term status in the premiership and competing with the big boys for seasons to come.

“There are many challenges that the team faces but we try to overcome them in as many ways as possible,” Mojakhomo said.

“The team’s management work together to come up with solutions.”

Moipone Makhoalinyane

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Seema wins top award

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Lesotho football legend Lehlohonolo Seema has praised his Sekhukhune United players after he was named Coach of The Month for February and March in South Africa’s DSTV Premiership.

It is the first time Seema has won the prestigious award in his coaching career and it rewards the impressive job he has done at Sekhukhune since joining the club in November from Polokwane City.

Sekhukhune United, or “Babina Noko”, are unbeaten over the last two months.

In the process, they have scored 11 goals and conceded just three times to shoot all the way up to fourth place in South Africa’s elite league.

Their unbeaten 2024 includes a five-match winning streak in which they beat Richards Bay 3-1 and Golden Arrows 1-0 in February and then dispatched Royal AM 1-0, Swallows 4-1 and Soweto giants Orlando Pirates 2-1 in March.

Seema told thepost he is delighted to receive the recognition, especially because it is his first time winning the award.

He also praised his players for their role in the team’s success.

His captain, Linda Mntambo, was named the DSTV Premiership player of the month and it is the first time a player and a coach from Sekhukhune United win the award.

“This recognition is the first-ever recognition in my life and for ‘Babina Noko’,” Seema said.

“I honour my players a great deal because, without them, I would not have been recognised. Their effort and passion has brought us this far.”

Seema said it is not easy coaching in the pressure cooker that is South Africa’s top-flight but his side have managed to navigate through the challenges they have encountered.

“The pressure in the DSTV Premiership is real. Every team is fighting but what helps me and the team is taking it one game at a time,” Seema said.

The highlight of Sekhukhune’s run over the past two months was their stunning 2-1 win on March 30 over Orlando Pirates, a side Seema captained during his playing days, which must have made that particular victory all the more sweeter.

The former Likuena captain said beating big teams like Orlando Pirates is not an easy assignment and Sekhukhune United’s victory showed him that the team was growing.

Now, Seema is gunning for nothing less than a top four finish at the end of the season.

A first-ever CAF Champions League spot for Sekhukhune United is also possible.

Finishing in the DSTV Premiership’s top two spots earns a coveted ticket to Africa’s premier club competition and Seema’s side are four points behind second-placed Stellenbosch with eight games to go.

Sekhukhune United’s next opponents?

Stellenbosch, at home, next Wednesday.

“Now we have to prepare well, more than before,” Seema said.

“Our schedule for the next games is very tight. If we will be playing against Stellenbosch on the 17th (of April) and on the 20th we are playing again against Cape Town Spurs, two days will not be enough – we have to start now to prepare for both games,’ he said.

Seema said his appreciation also goes to Sekhukhune United’s supporters.

“Their presence lifts us to win.”

Relebohile Tšepe

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Linare players set for windfall

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Linare players are dreaming of walking away with M330 000 at the end of the season by snatching second place in the Vodacom Premier League.
‘Tse Tala’ have won five of their last six matches and are the hottest team in the top-flight right now.

Linare are unbeaten in the league since February 10 and no team has collected more points than the 16 the Hlotse side have amassed in that period.

Their fine form continued on Sunday with a 2-0 win over Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and now Linare’s players want second place, at least.

Linare are fourth in the Vodacom Premier League with 43 points from 24 games, 11 points behind second-placed Matlama with six games to go.

It is a longshot to crack the top two, but ‘Tse Tala’ believe they can do it and midfielders Tšepang Sefali and Tšepo Makhanya said they have not given up hope of even stealing the league title.

“We would be so grateful if we can reach second place but if (league leaders) Lioli lose three or four games, we will have the opportunity to be the champions,” Sefali said.

Linare’s confidence is soaring high because they don’t know what a loss feels like since Bob Mafoso took over in early February.

Their only defeat came last month in the People’s Cup semi-finals against Matlama and that was on penalties.

Mafoso took over after Leslie Notši’s departure in January and Sefali and Makhanya said they have felt the difference.

Linare finished second in the Vodacom Premiership last season under Notši, an impressive feat, but they had dropped to seventh place by the time he departed.

With a top four finish slipping away, Linare found a new spring in their step when Mafoso arrived and Sefali said they hit the ground running because they knew what their new coach demanded and expected of his players.

“Almost all the players in the team have met and faced (Mafoso) before (when he was coaching other teams) and they all understand his strategies and techniques,” Sefali said.

“Our players already knew what he wants from the players, so we do not want to waste any time but do exactly (what Mafoso wants),” he said.

“Yes, coach Leslie Notši did a good job and we appreciated his effort but now we are seeing what we expected in the league because of the presence of (Mafoso),” Makhanya said.

Sefali said the competition for places has skyrocketed over the past two months and that is pushing every player to work hard and fight to play every match.

“There is too much competition; everyone wants to prove his talent to coach. Everyone wants to play every game but I am happy that our coach gives every player a chance to play which makes the team improve,” Sefali said.

“Even though we have not had much time with (Mafoso), his presence has brought a positive impact on the team,” he added. “I believe going forward; we will do more than what we are doing. I believe it is not early to praise him.”

Makhanya said one of the keys has been the togetherness Mafoso has brought to the team and they are confident to say they will stay in the top four and even finish the Vodacom Premier League season in second place.

A top four finish would be real progress for ‘Tse Tala’ because they have not had consecutive top four finishes since 2004, mainly because Linare have been consistently inconsistent from year to year.

Mafoso told thepost on Monday that very experienced coaches mentored the team before his arrival. He said his predecessors, Notši and South African guru Teboho Moloi, did a lot of good work so the reception of the players has made his job easier.

“I would like to appreciate the reception they gave me,” Mafoso said.

“Every team is good because of the players it has, so I accepted the assignment (to coach Linare) because of the quality that I believed the team could have. It is a long process that is at its start, but we are happy with how we are growing,” he said.

Mafoso said Linare are ready to win as many games as they can to finish the season on a high note.

“The dedication and attitude of the players satisfies me a lot, it is why we are doing well,” Mafoso said.

Relebohile Tšepe

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