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Likuena’s long wait continues

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MASERU – Likuena’s quest to win a maiden COSAFA Cup title came to an abrupt end last Wednesday with a semi-final defeat at the hands of Botswana in Durban, South Africa.
Lesotho had gone into the tournament hoping to reach a first final and perhaps claim gold for the first time.
The goal was part of an ambitious mandate set by the Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) which demanded Likuena reach at least the final after consecutive semi-final appearances in 2017 and 2018.
Although the mandate might have ramped up pressure on the national team, this was viewed as a good opportunity as any for Likuena to reach new frontiers at the showpiece especially with several pre-tournament favourites such as Zimbabwe, Uganda and hosts South Africa fielding second string sides with their focus on the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) which starts in Egypt later this month.
However, Lesotho again fell at the semis losing 2-1 to Botswana who went on to lose 1-0 to Zambia in last Saturday’s final.
The ramifications of Likuena’s performance will remain to be seen.
Before the start of the tournament LEFA made it clear the future of Likuena’s technical team would be decided after the 2020 African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifiers against South Africa in July and August.
Likuena were without head coach Moses Maliehe in Durban. Maliehe was ill and was temporarily replaced by his assistant coach, Mpitsa Marai, and Bantu coach James Madidilane for the tournament.
With Lesotho’s COSAFA Cup defeat coming soon after the failure in March to quality for the 2019 AFCON, all eyes now will be on Likuena’s CHAN campaign.
Likuena started their COSAFA Cup campaign in the quarterfinals against Uganda. It was a difficult game and for the majority of the time Lesotho was frustrated by their counterparts and some decisions that went against the side – Likuena had two goals ruled out for offside as the tie ended in a goalless draw.
Lesotho eventually won the penalty shootout with goalkeeper Sam Ketsekile claiming the man of the match award for his impressive display on the day.
Marai kept the same squad for the semi-final against Botswana before making changes in the third and fourth place play-off against Zimbabwe which Lesotho lost on penalties.
So, how did the boys perform?
We rate them.

Sam Ketsekile (8)
The Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) goalkeeper was probably the standout performer for Likuena, especially against Uganda where he single-handedly kept the team in the game with some crucial saves to keep the score-line goalless in regulation play.
The veteran goalkeeper then showed his experience in the ensuing penalty shootout as he saved two penalties to emerge as the hero of Lesotho’s quarterfinal win.
He kept his place in the semi-final against Botswana and conceded two first half goals, the second of which he could have perhaps done better.
Ketsekile didn’t start the third-place playoff against Zimbabwe but it was no surprise to see him substituted on when it was clear the game would be heading for a penalty shootout.
Although he couldn’t produce more miracles against Zimbabwe, overall, Ketsekile was colossal for the national team in Durban.

Tšoanelo Koetle (7)
Koetle played as a right-sided fullback for the entire tournament because Likuena suffered a blow before leaving for Durban when they lost two defenders to injuries.
It forced the technical team to make do with the players they had which pushed the Lioli midfielder into defence.
Although Koetle has played the position before, he has operated as a midfielder for club and country for the better part of the past five years.
He came up against some pacey wingers against both Uganda and Botswana but the combative Koetle acquitted himself well defensively.
It is going forward where he perhaps could have provided more width for Likuena.
Lesia Thetsane (6)
The United States based leftback did not have a great outing in Durban. It was not a surprise to see him hauled off two minutes into the second half in the semi-final against Botswana to pave way for Thapelo Tale. It was a tactical move to bring in an attacker as Lesotho was trailing 2-0, but Thetsane had offered little until that point.
He passed a late fitness test for the bronze medal playoff against Zimbabwe game but his performance overall was average.

Nkau Lerotholi and Basia Makepe (7)
The centreback duo of Lerotholi and Makepe had a difficult game against Uganda as the ‘The Cranes’ mounted waves of attacks but the pair remained disciplined. Despite letting in four goals in two games the centrebacks worked their socks off. Lerotholi took over the captaincy armband from Makepe against Zimbabwe as Makepe was suspended for the game. The play-off turned into a tricky game for Likuena’s defence but they soldiered on.

Tšoarelo Bereng and Sepiriti Malefane (7)
Since making his debut for the national team, Bereng has won the fans over with his slick passing and eye for a goal.
The Black Leopards midfielder has rarely put a foot wrong in the centre of the park and whenever he is with the national team produces stellar performances.
He started the first two games in Durban and was important in the midfield either helping out the defence or carrying the ball forward. He came in from the bench against Zimbabwe and drew Likuena level to 2-2 with a great goal. His midfield partner Malefane was similarly impressive with solid performances throughout the tournament.

Tumelo Khutlang (7)
One of the stars in the national team, Khutlang never stops running and working hard. It is no surprise fans always look to him to create something special for the team.
Because of his pace he was always a thorn for defenders although he missed the side’s last game due to an injury. Khutlang is a player that gets fouled a lot and creates set-pieces for the team.
He was not as influential in this year’s showpiece as last year when his displays earned him a move to South African side Black Leopards but he was crucial to Likuena again.

Hlompho Kalake (5)
Kalake was one of the players that had a nightmare in the semi-final defeat against Botswana. Nothing went his way. His crossing, passing and end-product was just not up to standard.
‘Stiga’, as Kalake is known, is not a natural right winger but he has played that position before for his club Bantu. Before leaving for the tournament the technical team said they were aware Kalake is not a winger but they were confident he would do the job based on their game-plan. Unfortunately, Kalake on the wing did not work out well for Likuena.

Masoabi Nkoto (4)
Another player that had an outing to forget is the Real Kings striker.
Nkoto was probably the worst player across the whole squad. In his three games he did not score or create any chances. He was plagued by poor decision-making in the final third which left the Likuena fans that made the long trip from Lesotho to KwaZulu-Natal frustrated throughout.

Motebang Sera (8)
Absolutely phenomenal throughout the tournament for Lesotho, Sera was a go-to-man when Likuena wanted goals. He came from the bench in the quarter-finals against Uganda and refreshed Likuena’s attack. He was unfortunate to see his goal ruled offside as television replays suggested it might have not been the case.
Surprisingly, despite making such a big difference against Uganda, Sera was still on the bench again in the semi-finals against Botswana. He was introduced in the first half with Lesotho trailing 2-0 and pulled one back in the second half. However, unfortunately Likuena could not find the crucial second goal.

Lehlohonolo Fothoane (7)
Fothoane, just like Sera came, from the bench against Botswana and breathed life into the team. He was very energetic and provided the attacking threat Likuena needed. The Bantu midfielder was one of the bright sparks for Likuena and, hopefully, we will see more of him in the national team colours.
Honourable mentions:
Players such as Thapelo Tale and Jane Thaba-Ntšo deserve an honourable mention. They didn’t put a foot wrong in difficult situations and Tale’s introduction, for example, helped Likuena step up their attack against Botswana.
Backup goalkeeper Thabiso Lichaba played one game that he didn’t finish – the third-place playoff against Zimbabwe – and didn’t play enough minutes to earn a rating.
Likuena 2019 COSAFA Cup squad:

Goalkeepers
Thabiso Lichaba, Monaheng Ramalefane, Sam Ketsekile

Defenders
Tšoanelo Koetle, Lesia Thetsane, Kopano Tseka , Nkau Lerotholi, Basia Makepe, Bokang Sello

Midfielders
Sepiriti Malefane, Hlompho Kalake, Tšepo Toloane, Lehlohonolo Fothoane, Jane Thaba-Ntšo, Luciano Matsoso, Tšoarelo Bereng, Tumelo Khutlang

Forwards
Thapelo Tale, Motebang Sera, Masoabi Nkoto

Tlalane Phahla

 

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Women rugby stars picked by Free State

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Two Lesotho women’s rugby stars, Thato Moeti and Mookho Lesoetsa, have been selected to the Free State senior team for the 2024 season.
The duo have been selected after their sterling performances for Lesotho in the on-going Free State Women’s Rugby League in South Africa and now Moeti and Lesoetsa can look forward to competing in the Cheetahs League, which marks a major step in their rugby careers.

Moeti told thepost yesterday that she is “very grateful for the opportunity” to be part of the Free State squad.

“It has always been my wish to be selected and, finally, I made it in the eyes of the Free State management,” Moeti said.

“I believe that if (Lesotho rugby) players can play with heart and spirit, and if they show their talent in the league, they can also be selected next season,” she added.

The management of the Free State women’s team scouted players from Lesotho to join in their squad last year as well.

12 months ago, it was Palesa Pitso, Mosongoa Monaheng and Nthabeleng Lebetsa who were picked, and they remain with the squad.

The selected players sign yearly contracts with the Free State team and Lesotho’s contingent at the club is now up to five.

The team manager of the national women’s rugby team, Tumelo Phenya, said Lesotho’s players seem to improve and “become very competitive” when they compete across the border because everyone wants the exposure and opportunity to compete outside the country.

He said being part of the Free State Women’s Rugby League allows Lesotho’s players to showcase their talent and opens doors for them to be selected for the Cheetahs League the following year.

“We are very lucky that South Africa recognises our players, especially because rugby in South Africa is at a high level. It shows progress for us as a country that we can produce players that can be competitive internationally,” Phenya said.

Phenya said he aims to see Lesotho compete at the Women’s Rugby Cup one day.
The showpiece is held every four years and the next tournament is next year in England.

Phenya said Pitso, Monaheng and Lebetsa, who have now gained experience and exposure outside the country, are excellent products to promote rugby in Lesotho.
Pitso also happens to be the team manager of the Lesotho men’s rugby side.

“When we go to schools with them, students fall into the sport because they want to be like them. Even Pitso’s title says a lot to students, they see growth in rugby,” he said.

Unfortunately, rugby, especially the women’s game, is hamstrung by a lack of finances and support.

As a result, Phenya said there are many tournaments and invitations Lesotho fails to honour because of no funds.

Phenya pleaded with Basotho and local companies to invest in their sport so that women’s rugby can grow and improve.

Lesotho is currently part of the Free State Women’s League that kicked off last month and will end early in May.

The national side played two games.

Lesotho beat Spartans 34-12 and lost 34-7 to Central University of Technology (CUT).

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Seema speaks on good run

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Lesotho legend Lehlohonolo Seema has spoken on Sekhukhune United’s impressive run in the DSTV Premiership since taking over the reins at the Polokwane-based outfit in December last year.
“Babina Noko”, as Sekhukhune are affectionately known, were in 12th place when its management appointed the former Likuena captain as its new coach last year, but the team has since ascended to third position.

Seema joined Sekhukhune from Polokwane City, who were then in sixth position but now find themselves in 10th position since the Lesotho mentor left them for their rivals from the same province.
Speaking exclusively to thepost following a run of five victories which includes a 2-1 win over former club Orlando Pirates and Tuesday’s 2-2 draw against Cape Town City, Seema attributed the impressive run to the hard work his team has been putting on the training ground.

“I’m not surprised by the way the players responded to my way of doing things since I took over the reins. On beating Pirates, it’s not even about Pirates, it’s all about collecting points,” Seema said.
“Beating a big side is always a bonus and giving yourself a chance to finish in a better position. There was nothing personal, but we are taking it one game at a time. We are happy as a club to collect the three points because competition is tight, and the margins are very close, and we just want to collect as many points as possible.

“Remember this team was playing in the Confederations Cup though it was not doing well in the league, but they have shown that they won games in the continent in countries like DRC to have made the group stages of the continental competition,” he said.

Seema believes being together in their camp has also worked wonders for his team to be the most inform team in the DSTV Premiership at this juncture.
They are now in third position behind defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns as well as another surprise package in Stellenbosch FC.

“There is no secret honestly in the form that we have been enjoying as a club, but just hard work on the training pitch, having a common goal, respecting each other, and listening to each other,” Seema said.

“We have remained humble on and off the field as a team, we have made it easy for players to work with us by asking questions on the training ground and we give them answers to come up with solutions for problems that we have as a team.

“Credit must go to the whole technical team, the analysts, fitness team, medical team because since I arrived here, we have had a very tough schedule and we don’t have a big squad, but they have managed it very well.

“The analysis team has been doing a magnificent job giving us everything we need on time to plan on our team as well as the opponents and our team has coped with all the challenges thrown at us,” he said.

Seema also opened up on Lesotho international, Teboho Letsema, who was registered by Sekhukhune in the January transfer window.

“Letsema is our player, we have signed him but could not register him because we already had five foreigners but because we could not miss out on such a talent, we had to get his signature,” Seema said.

“We managed to loan him out to Orbit, who are in the Motsepe Championship and competing. It’s good for him and he is a player to watch next season,” he said.

Mikia Kalati

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Lioli captain says job not done yet

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Lioli captain Mafa Moremoholo insists the job “is not done” in the race to claim the Vodacom Premier League crown.

Last weekend was a game-changer in the title chase and Lioli are now firmly in the driver’s seat to lift the league trophy after results went their way in dramatic fashion.

The drama started last Saturday when recently crowned People’s Cup champions Matlama were stunned 3-0 by Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS).

24 hours later, Lifofane held fellow title rivals Bantu to a surprise 1-1 draw and the weekend ended with Lioli five points clear at the top of the table after ‘Tse Nala’ overcame Liphakoe 1-0.

Although Lioli, with 56 points from 24 matches, have played a game more than Matlama (51 points) and Bantu (49 points), points in hand are better than those still to gain.

Furthermore, if Lioli win their remaining six matches, they will be crowned champions regardless of other results and that has uncorked joy in Teyateyaneng (TY) with some fans already planning festivities for when Lioli end their eight-year title drought.

List of champions since 2010:
2010 Matlama
2011 Lesotho Correctional Service
2012 Lesotho Correctional Service
2013 Lioli
2014 Bantu
2015 Lioli
2016 Lioli
2017 Bantu
2018 Bantu
2019 Matlama
2020 Bantu
2021-22 Matlama
2023 Bantu

Moremoholo however warned against any premature celebrations and insisted Lioli have not reached the levels the club’s players and coaches want to attain.
The stalwart defender said the gap the TY giants have established at the top means nothing because they still have six crucial games to play.

“As for being the champions of the league, I cannot comment on that because we are on a serious journey,” he said. “The title can be missed by an inch, so we do not want to praise ourselves now.”

Moremoholo pointed out that the league’s intensity has picked up in the second half of the season, and even though Lioli won 1-0 on Sunday, Liphakoe’s performance surprised him.
It was night and day from the first round clash in November when Lioli won 2-1, he said, this time Liphakoe were prepared and ready to fight.

It is going to be that way in every game for the remainder of the season because all teams want to improve their league position, Moremoholo added.

“Our games with Liphakoe are never easy because we have our own fight over our (similar) logos. We are birds of the same feather,” he said. “They approached us in a different way from the first leg, which surprised me. They gave us pressure and we had to fight. We still need to improve how we approach our games.”

As one of the leaders of the team, a lot of that responsibility will fall on Moremoholo.

So far, the skipper has led with aplomb and has been the epitome of consistency while marshalling a defence that has conceded just 13 goals in 24 games. Only LMPS (11 goals conceded in 24 games) have a better defensive record.

Moremoholo’s leadership has duly been recognised around the league and ‘Tse Nala’ coach Motheo Mohapi called him Lioli’s best player after their win over Liphakoe.
Mohapi said the defender’s efforts as captain and his willingness to work to lift his team has been key to their success.
Moremoholo preferred to praise his teammates, though.

“It is through the hard work of the team for someone to be recognised. I really appreciate my teammates for setting the spotlight on me to be recognised (by Mohapi),” he said.

The Lioli skipper added that the club’s targets extend beyond this season – they want to see ‘Tse Nala’ recognised in continental competitions in the next two to three years, and their focus is not on just winning the league.

For them to become a competitive fixture in CAF competitions, Lioli will need to continue their noticeable improvement under Mohapi.

Last season they finished eighth place in the league with 42 points, 26 points behind eventual champions Bantu. Lioli have already shattered that points total in Mohapi’s first season in charge and Moremoholo believes there is more room to grow.

He said the core of Lioli’s players are still young which gives them a chance to improve and reach their goal of future dominance while the presence of Mohapi as coach is another reason Moremoholo sees a bright future for the team.

“Most of our players are still young, they are early in their 20s, and they will hold the team for some years while they gain experience. I also appreciate (Mohapi) for being part of our team and holding our hands to return the dignity of the team,” he said.

The club’s collective efforts have manifested the return of Lioli fans to grounds this season and that vociferous 12th man, which was key to Lioli’s successful title-winning teams in the past, will again be crucial in their next game on Sunday against Lijabatho.

“Seeing supporters at our games lift our spirits and it gives us hope to win every game,” Moremoholo said.

“(The Lioli fans) should never give up on us because through their presence, we get motivated.”

Weekend fixtures:
Saturday
Bantu vs Liphakoe
Manonyane vs Likila
Lifofane vs CCX
Lijabatho vs Lioli
Sunday
Machokha vs LDF
Naughty Boys vs Matlama
LMPS vs Linare
ACE Maseru vs LCS

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