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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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Matlama, Lioli meet in title decider

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The Vodacom Premier League championship will be on the line on Saturday when juggernauts Lioli and Matlama clash in Teya-teyaneng on the final day of the season.

‘Tse Nala’ go into the game in a strong position as they lead the league by two points, which means they will be crowned champions if they avoid defeat against second-placed Matlama.

The game is set to be played at the Lioli Ground despite a public outcry to move the title decider to a safer venue to avoid overcrowding and ensure the safety of the multitudes of people sure to attend the titanic clash.

The safety concerns are valid as both sets of supporters can be unruly and emotions will be running high on Saturday. There is no telling how the losing set of supporters will react.

Lioli said they were prepared to host 6 000 supporters but that number has been halved by the Premier League Management Committee (PLMC).

The Lioli ground in TY has no seats and there is no safety fencing, which means it is easy to gain access to the ground or watch the match from afar and that will further increase the number of spectators expected.

Matlama boast a good record against the leaders having only lost once in their last eight meetings and drawn twice.

When the two teams met in January at Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena, however, the game ended with ‘Tse Putsoa’s head coach Halemakale Mahlaha pulling his hair out at Lioli’s “park the bus” tactics that earned the leaders a valuable point.

Now all Lioli need to do is to do is repeat the same trick and they will win the title.

‘Tse Nala’, of course, can clinch the title in style by winning the game in front of their home supporters to secure their first league crown since 2018.

Past results between Lioli and Matlama:
21 January 2024
Matlama 1-1 Lioli
10 May 2023
Lioli 2-1 Matlama
01 October 2022
Matlama 1-0 Lioli
05 May 2022
Lioli 0-1 Matlama
24 June 2021
Matlama 0-0 Lioli
22 December 2019
Matlama 2-1 Lioli
09 February 2019
Lioli 0-1 Matlama
05 January 2019
Matlama 3-1 Lioli

Indeed, victory would end a painful drought for Lioli who spent years in the wilderness before their fortunes changed at the beginning of this season when they roped in Motheo Mohapi from Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).

No matter what happens on Saturday, this has been a successful campaign for Lioli but the league trophy would no doubt be the cherry on top.

For Matlama, the pressure has doubled after a 1-1 draw with Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) in their penultimate match last Sunday. Matlama would have gone into Saturday’s season finale at the top of the table had they managed to beat LCS, and all they would have needed is a point.

Now the roles have been reversed and the pressure is all on them.

‘Tse Putsoa’ have to come out guns blazing to win the season decider in order to claim the title because anything less than three points will not be enough.

Despite the stakes, Mahlaha has always maintained Matlama control their own destiny and he has maintained the same tune in the build-up to a match that will mark the first time the top two sides meet with the title at stake on the final day since 2011 when eventual champions LCS pipped LDF to the crown.

On that June day 14 years ago, LCS fought to a 1-1 draw with LDF at Ha Ratjomose to win the league title on goal difference.

LDF’s coach on the day was none other than Lioli’s head coach Motheo Mohapi. Mohapi, a league winner as a player but not yet as a coach, will be hoping to reverse that painful tale and cap the remarkable turnaround job he has done in TY.

Saturday’s final day drama will not just be confined to the top of the league, however, as a second team to be relegated will also be confirmed this weekend.

Naughty Boys have already been axed and the second relegation spot is between ACE Maseru, Manonyane and CCX.

The cards are stacked against ACE Maseru who are languishing in 15th place with 18 points. They face LDF at Ha Ratjomose on the final day and they have to win and hope both Manonyane and CCX slip-up in their games if they are to survive.

Final day fixtures:
Saturday (14:00)
Liphakoe vs. LU FC (LCS Ground)
LMPS vs. Bantu (PTC)
CCX vs. LCS (LAC)
Lifofane vs. Machokha (Butha-Buthe)
Linare vs. Manonyane (Maputsoe)
Lioli vs. Matlama (TY)
Lijabatho vs. Naughty Boys (Morija)
LDF vs. ACE Maseru (Ratjomose)

Tlalane Phahla

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Members FC dream big

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A-Division underdogs Members FC are dreaming big after they were crowned champions of the 2024 Nedbank 8 on Sunday.

Having gone into the tournament as outsiders, the Mazenod outfit capped a giant-killing spree by outclassing Kick4Life Juventude 4-2 in an exciting final at Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena, securing their first-ever Nedbank 8 crown.

It was a surprising triumph because in recent years, teams that have won promotion to the Premier League have dominated the Nedbank 8 competition, which is contested by the top eight clubs from the first division campaign.

This season those two teams are north stream winners Mzamane and the South champions, Majantja.

The duo were the consensus favourites to at least reach the final, but Members beat both of them on the way to setting up a surprise finale against Kick4Life Juventude.

As a reward for their unexpected glory, Members walked away with M35 000 in prize money in addition to gold medals and a trophy.

With no trip to the Vodacom Premier League on the horizon, Members say they will use the jackpot to prepare for a “big season in the A Division”, one they say should be their last playing in the second tier.

Members, who only joined league football in 2017, were promoted from the B-Division last year and they have enjoyed a meteoric rise to find themselves on the doorstep of making it to the elite league, if everything goes according to plan.

Members assistant coach Thabiso Tsoako said he is proud of his team for coming out on top in the Nedbank 8.

Tsoako said Members deserved to win as they knocked out the winners of both the North and South stream, whom Tsoako said were extra motivated because they wanted to raise some money to finance their spending in the Vodacom Premier League next season.

“After being promoted to the A-Division last season, our aim was to stay (in the first division) and we achieved that. This season we wanted to be in the top four and luckily we finished in position three, which gives us no doubt that next year (we want promotion), and we will get it,” he said.

Tsoako said being Nedbank 8 champions showed the team’s improvement and has renewed their confidence for promotion next season.

“The trophy is a big motivation for the players that they can achieve much more,” he said.

“We are taking everything step by step and today we are very grateful to be called the champions of this cup,” he added.

Tsoako said Members went into each game with no respect for their opponents and he believes that helped them triumph when many predicted Majantja would walk away as champions.

“Right from the beginning the plan was to not give the opponents space and time on the ball,” Tsoako said, a strategy that also paid dividends in the final where Members made it difficult for Kick4Life to play their usual passing game by pressing them higher up the field.

The next dream of winning promotion to the top-flight will be tough and Tsoako knows they have to beef up their squad and work harder.

He said the M35 000 prize money will help strengthen the team and take care of other expenses.

As is always the case when smaller teams do well, their players catch the eye of the bigger clubs and Tsoako said Members are already preparing for life without some of their key players.

“(Vodacom) Premier League teams had scouts watching the (Nedbank 8) games and it will not be easy to stop players from joining bigger clubs, but we can prepare for all eventualities,” he said.

This year’s Nedbank 8 was backed to the tune of M350 000 by Nedbank Lesotho and all eight competing teams received new kits.

There was a healthy financial boost for all the teams as well as all four teams that were knocked out in the quarterfinals with each walking away with M20 000.

Maroala, who finished fourth, received a M23 000 cheque while Majantja got M25 000 for finishing third.

Runners up Kick4Life Juventude, meanwhile, walked away with M30 000.

However, the weekend belonged to a jubilant Members outfit who won the M35 000 grand prize going to fuel dreams of reaching the Promised Land of the Vodacom Premier League.

Individual awards:
Player of the Tournament: Paseka Maile M3 000 (Kick4Life Juventude)
Goalkeeper of the Tournament: Thabo Kuleile M3 000 (Majantja)
Top Goalscorer: Tšoarelo Hlalele M3000 (Members FC)

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Makae hopes for Olympic invitation

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Lesotho mountain-bike star Tumelo Makae says he is crossing his fingers that he gets an Olympic invitation from the International Cycling Union (UCI).

Makae has failed to qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games that start in July through the UCI’s qualifying route but his performances could earn him an invitation to the Games in Paris, France.

A total of 72 mountain bikers (36 per gender) will race through the Paris 2024 cross-country course and two spots will be granted by the UCI through the Olympic Universality Places, which are a lifeline to athletes from underrepresented National Olympic Committees.

Universality Places are designed to increase the diversity of participating nations across the sports programme of the Olympic Games and Makae is hoping he receives a call after impressing at the African Mountainbike Championships held last weekend in Morocco where he helped Lesotho finish third.

For now, Makae is playing the waiting game and he arrived in the country on Tuesday.

Lesotho’s third place finish is the third time in a row the country has claimed bronze at the continental showpiece after similar performances in 2022 in Namibia and last year in South Africa.

This year Makae travelled alone to Morocco and, speaking to thepost upon his arrival, the 27-year-old said competing without a teammate was difficult because other countries sent numerous riders who helped each other by blocking opponents during racing.

Makae had to fight through on his own and said his focus was ensuring Lesotho stays in the top five.

Seven countries competed at the African Mountainbike Championships and Makae said he is happy with his performance. He thanked the Lesotho National Olympic Committee (LNOC) for its support.

“I understand what is expected of me when I go to big races,” he said.

“Every race comes with pressure as good performances keep Lesotho high in the rankings.”

With Africa’s top two nations – South Africa and Namibia – sending a legion of riders as usual, Makae set his eyes on beating the rest of the field including a Tunisian rider who turned into his closest competition for a podium place.

“We were in the same position all along but I left him in the last two laps, I am very happy that I managed to perform this way while I did not have teammates,” Makae said.

“I am thankful to the LNOC because the exposure and experience I gained is through their financial support. To Basotho, I will always try not to disappoint you,” he added.

Federation of Cycling Lesotho (FCL) spokesperson Malefane Morie said they are delighted that Makae is getting better and better, thanks to the many competitions that he races in. He said it was never in doubt that Makae would do well in Morocco.

Morie said the FCL plan to develop and train more riders

He said if the federation can send a team of at least five to race then they can give each other support. Morie said the FCL is struggling financially but they have asked for help from abroad and the feedback was positive.

“We wrote to the UCI and America to help us and America promised to give us 10 bicycles but under conditions that we recruit new riders in schools,” Morie said on Monday.

“This means the equipment will be used for training riders in schools while the UCI promised to give us funds for training,” he added.

Meanwhile, another rider, Kabelo Makatile, is representing Lesotho at the Tour de Algeria competitions that started last Saturday and will end on Monday.

Tlalane Phahla

 

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