Likuena’s journey ends in shame

Likuena’s journey ends in shame

Likuena’s shambolic 2021 COSAFA Cup participation is over and, as usual, the nation is left with more questions than answers about the national team.
The final nail in Lesotho’s COSAFA Cup coffin came on Tuesday in the form of a 4-0 drubbing by hosts South Africa at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.

Once again Likuena supporters were subjected to a below par and lethargic performance throughout the entire 90 minutes as South Africa comfortably picked up their third successive win and a place in the tournament’s semi-finals.
Our players showed no fight or heart whatsoever and afterwards Lesotho interim coach Leslie Notši admitted his players didn’t come to the party.
I would argue they never came to the party throughout the entire group stage except for against Zambia last Thursday, when Likuena claimed a 2-1 win.

However, that sweet victory over the defending COSAFA Cup champions was overshadowed by a series of bad performances in Likuena’s other three Group A games in which they conceded a total of 12 goals and scored three times.
Losing is one thing, but going down without a fight is something else altogether and it is clear these players have no pride for the national team and the badge they wear.
The Likuena jerseys are the country’s colours and the players don’t play like it.

What hurts the most is that we passionately follow this team but they rarely show up.
Lesotho’s COSAFA Cup squad included some experienced players that have played in multiple editions of the regional showpiece but they didn’t show up, instead, it was the newcomers that impressed.
The reason for calling up experienced players is because a team needs a good mix of youth and experience, as Italy showed at the recent European Championships. However, what do we do when Likuena’s experienced players are the worst performers?
The COSAFA Cup is a big deal for us.

For so long we have complained about using the same players for the World Cup, Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifiers and the COSAFA Cup, and that they never perform any differently.
This year the team was tweaked a little bit, not because we were going to test our young players, but because of that infamous Mozambique tour last month from which we know all the culprits.
Those troublemakers were excluded from the COSAFA Cup team because they had to be. But, if it were not because of that, I reckon we would still have the same squad.

Likuena has not reached the finals of the COSAFA Cup since 2000. In April the Lesotho Football Association’s (LEFA) president, Advocate Salemane Phafane, issued a stern warning to former Lesotho head coach Thabo Senong that the team had to reach this year’s COSAFA Cup semi-finals, or face consequences.
Well, Senong isn’t here anymore and Likuena never looked like getting into the semi-finals, so what now, president?
Notši isn’t the coach, he was roped in as an emergency.
He will likely go back to his daily job as the Technical Director of LEFA where he will be part of the search for new national coach. At this point it remains a mystery as to who will be given the job.

Likuena’s first game against Eswatini last Tuesday was gut-wrenching because Lesotho was the better team despite receiving an early red card for Jane Thabantšo. The team performed better and deservedly got an equaliser through Tumelo Khutlang’s free kick but with 10 players on the pitch Eswatini eventually took advantage of their numerical superiority and won the game 3-1.
Then came Zambia and Likuena recorded a stunning victory and suddenly we were hoping again, but with this team it is hope that kills. Against Botswana and South Africa where we conceded eight goals, reality hit home once again – we are just not good enough as a country.

Whenever Likuena performs badly, we never address the real issues which stem on poor development of players. It has always been easy to blame the coaches, just as we did with Senong.
I am not saying coaches are blameless, but we had one of the best development coaches in South Africa as Likuena coach and he is gone just like that. You have to wonder if there is anything we learnt or if there is anything we took from him to build on going forward. I doubt it.
As a country we have big expectations for the national team but don’t want to put in the work, we are cutting corners to success.

We have Under-17 and Under-20 national teams, but how do we bridge the gap between the youth teams and the senior team? What is the plan?
Notši said South Africa wanted it more than us, that the players did not engage themselves defensively or offensively and communication was lacking. We gave South Africa too much respect, he said. Notši also said there is a lot we can take from the tournament, which foremost is the exposure of young players.

“We had discussions during the break (against South Africa) and in the second half and the players performed much better but, of course, we conceded the fourth goal. Even in the first half, the goals we conceded came in critical phases,” Notši said.
“I think there is a lot that we can take from this tournament. For our youngsters that we brought in, the exposure of today’s game I think is good.”

Tlalane Phahla

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