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Matlama rules the roost

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MASERU – THE international break couldn’t have come at a better time for some clubs in the Econet Premier League.
The 2018/19 season has started with twists and turns and some sides already finding themselves in situations they never wanted to be in while others are on cloud nine.
All clubs are heading into the two-week international recess with five games under their belts and only Matlama remain unbeaten with three wins and two draws.
So far 68 goals have been scored around the country in the top-flight with Lesotho Correctional Service leading the charts with 12 goals followed by log leaders Matlama with nine goals.
It is clear the inability to find the net continues to haunt the league.

68 goals scored in 70 games is a poor return and is a sneak preview of why the national team Likuena has struggled to score goals for so long.
If you sit down with almost every premier league coach and ask about this season’s goalless draws and 1-0 scores, they complain about goal-scoring.
They complain about the number of chances their teams create but miss, and this problem spreads to the national team.
Anyone that watches football knows 68 goals after five rounds of league games is very poor.

However, this is the first international break since the league kicked off and here are the winners and the losers at this stage of the season.
While the likes of Matlama would be expected to be at the top end of the table, it has been a mixed season for other teams and it will be interesting to see where the sides stand when the next international break comes around.
So far this is how we picked the Econet Premier League’s winners and the losers.

Linare

Linare were one of the Econet Premier League’s disappointments last season as they finished ninth with just eight wins from 24 games.
It seemed as though their problems were following them into the new season when they were hammered 4-0 by Matlama last month in their opening game of the campaign.
‘Tse Tala’, however, have bounced back with three victories against Likhopo, Swallows and Majantja and they enter the international break in seventh place, only behind Lioli and Liphakoe on goal difference.

Linare can consider themselves winners after the opening five weeks and the two-week international break might even do them good.
It gives Teele Ntšonyana and his charges an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and reflect on their mistakes.
Ultimately, there is no shame in losing to log leaders Matlama and it is last Thursday’s 1-0 loss to Sefotha-fotha that Linare will probably beat themselves about. With a win against Sefotha-fotha, ‘Tse Tala’ could be sitting as league leaders.

However, their start must make Linare positive about their chances of returning to the top eight.
While it is still early in the season, Linare’s form so far suggests they have what it takes to at least finish in the top eight.

Next three games:

20/10 Linare vs. Galaxy (A)
03/11 Linare vs. Kick4Life (A)
11/11 Linare vs. Bantu (H)

Liphakoe

The Quthing based side are sixth on the Econet Premier League table having registered three wins and only two defeats in their five matches this season.
One of the victories came against Kick4Life on Sunday and it will definitely build confidence in the team that they can have a better season than last.
Liphakoe were promoted to the top-flight in the 2015/16 season and finished 11th. The following year they came 10th and last season finished ninth and narrowly missed out on the top eight as Majantja beat them to the coveted spot by two points.
Liphakoe are making steady progress and making it into the league’s top eight teams and qualifying for the annual Lesotho National Insurance Group (LNIG) Top 8 showpiece must be a dream in Quthing.

However, their next five fixtures are going to be very tough.
After the international break Liphakoe meet southern rivals Majantja and then have Bantu away before a home game against Lioli. Those two difficult fixtures are followed by Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS).
If Liphakoe manage to get at least eight points from those games it will be a good return for the Quthing side.

Next three games:

20/10 Liphakoe vs. Majantja (A)
04/11 Liphakoe vs. Bantu (A)
10/11 Liphakoe vs. Lioli (H)

LCS

Not only are LCS the only team to hit double digits when it comes to goals scored so far, ‘Masheshena’ have also been one of the most entertaining teams to watch.
Second on the log just one point behind the leaders, LCS seem to have learnt from their mistakes last season and appear a focused unit this term.
Mpitsa Marai’s side may have lost this past weekend to Bantu but it was their first loss of the season and assistant coach Shalane Lehohla blamed a tough run of games they had to play before they could recover properly.
LCS needed a response after missing out on the top four last season and although there is still a lot to be done, ‘Masheshena’ are winners going into the international break.

Next three games:

21/11 LCS vs. Kick4Life (A)
04/11 LCS vs. Lioli (A)
10/11 LCS vs. LDF (H)

Bantu

The two-time defending champions have been underwhelming this season. ‘A Matšo Matebele’ only have two wins from their five matches.
It is a stark contrast to last season when the Mafeteng giants started off with five straight wins to set them on the way to a successful title triumph.
However, it is still too early to write them off the title race just yet.

Big clubs do struggle in the beginning of a season and some would say it is normal for a side to go through a slight lull after winning back-to-back titles.
The players may lack the motivation to maintain their high standards and winners also know they can always bounce back to turn things around.
James Madidilane and his charges will likely change their fortunes as the season progresses but, for now, they are the losers heading into the international break.
They are in eighth place on the log after five games with just eight points from possible 15 which is not good enough for a club of Bantu’s stature and with the quality they possess in their squad.
Madidilane admitted Sunday’s 1-0 win over LCS was a must-win for his team to boost their confidence. This break is probably the best thing the champions could have hoped for, a chance to go back and rethink their plans.

Next three games:

21/10 Bantu vs. LMPS (H)
04/11 Bantu vs. Liphakoe (H)
11/11 Linare vs. Bantu (A)

Majantja

Perhaps a lot was expected from Majantja after last season’s solid debut in the Econet Premier League campaign in which they finished eighth.
This season, however, has been far from what they were hoping for and it has been a nightmare for the Mohale’s Hoek based side so far.
Last week the club’s spokesperson, Tšepang Makakule, admitted the team’s performance on the field is being greatly affected by off-field politics in the club’s management and that players are unhappy about certain things.
Majantja finished in the top eight last year but they could find themselves in the relegation dogfight this season if they continue like this.
Majantja started the campaign by losing three games consecutively in poor fashion. They then surprisingly beat Lioli only to lose to Linare in the very next game.

Next three games:

20/10 Majantja vs. Liphakoe (H)
03/11 Majantja vs. Matlama (H)
11/11 Majantja vs. Likhopo (A)

Kick4Life

One victory, three draws, one defeat and six points from a possible 15 available is not good enough for Bob Mafoso’s team.
It is worth mentioning that all three draws Kick4Life have played so far were all goalless and came against LDF, LMPS and Bantu. One may also argue Kick4Life have had a tough fixture list to start the season and they were bound to struggle a bit after the departure of Leslie Notši as coach in the offseason.
However, with the quality they possess, they should be beating Liphakoe and then you can stomach three draws against the top teams in the league.
Bob Mafoso is a proven winner and a very good coach who has proved himself in the league. He led Sundawana to a wonderful fourth place in 2016 and then won back-to-back titles as Bantu assistant coach before joining Kick4Life in June.

It is only five games in but judging by their performances so far, it is difficult to expect much more than a top eight finish from the Old Europa side this season.
Likhopo deserve an honourable mention in the losers’ category heading into the international break. With four defeats and a draw against premier league newcomers Swallows, Likhopo have been dreadful this season.

Kick4Life’s next three games:

21/10 Kick4Life vs. LCS (H)
03/11 Kick4Life vs. Linare (H)
11/11 Kick4Life vs. Matlama (A)

Luciah Phahla

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Moerane signs for Orbit

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CAF President Dr Patrice Motsepe made a bold statement during the opening ceremony of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire that this tournament will go down as the best in the history of the beautiful game.

The tournament has indeed lived up to those expectations as it reaches the quarter-final stage. The continental showpiece has entertained us with everything that every football fanatic would expect from a big continental tourney like the AFCON.

His decision to join Orbit FC ends months of speculation where he was linked with several clubs in South Africa in both the Premier League and Motsepe Foundation Championship.

The Mazenod-born goalkeeper had been the centre of attention after years of impressive displays playing for his country in various competitions.

Moerane had not only been a hit in Southern Africa, where in 2023 he was named the Goalkeeper of the Tournament at the COSAFA Cup, but had also been given standing ovations in countries like Cote D’voire and Nigeria, where Likuena surprised the continental powerhouses.

The goal-minder was also the 2022/2023 Vodacom Premier League Goalkeeper of the Season adding that he was sad to leave the police outfit, who had been on an impressive run in the current season.

LMPS remains the only team that is still unbeaten in the league.

“This has been a challenge I have been looking forward to and I’m very happy that it has finally come true,” Moerane said after his arrival in South Africa.

“I know that it will not be easy as I come to a new country, new team, new teammates and new coach, which I all have to win over to trust me as their new player.”

Moerane is adamant the presence of experienced Likuena teammate, Tshwarelo Bereng, who is a journeyman and is well respected, will help him settle down quickly at his new club.

“He is a very experienced and respected player, whose presence at the club, I have no doubt will help me settle down quickly at this club,” he said.

“This is a new chapter of my career, where I need to start all over and make a legacy like I did during my time with LMPS.

“I have been preparing myself for some time now and I think I’m mentally and physically ready for this new challenge,” he said.

Moerane said the First Division will be a good stepping stone for him to make a name for himself in South Africa.

“I’m happy with the move to the First Division, it’s a good platform for me to make a name for myself and I believe I will still get to the bigger league or clubs, but it has to go through the right channels,” he said.

The agency that represents the player, Opus Sports Group with renowned football administrator Chris Bullock as the managing director, stated that they felt the first division was a good platform for Moerane to gradually grow into South African football.

“The move was about Moerane taking the next step of his career. He will get a good opportunity to get exposure at a good NDF club and if he does well, it will be a chance for him to progress further,” Bullock said.

“We liked how Orbit conducted themselves throughout and their vision for Sekhoane too and I think everyone is on the same page.

“It’s now up to Sekhoane to work hard and perform the way we know he is capable of and the rest will take care of itself,” he said.

Bullock also expressed gratitude to LMPS FC for allowing Moerane, who was recently promoted to the rank of Sergeant, to leave the country for greener pastures.

Mikia Kalati

 

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Manonyane boss blames injuries for poor run

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Manonyane head coach Mosholi Mokhothu has blamed injuries for his side’s poor Vodacom Premier League campaign.
After a promising 2022/23 season in which they won two of their final four games and finished 11th, Manonyane have taken a major step back and find themselves languishing in 14th place.

The Roma side haven’t won a league match since a 1-0 win over Machokha on November 18, a run of nine games that includes five losses.
Manonyane have been so bad, in fact, that they haven’t scored a goal in all three games they have played since the turn of the year.
Their poor form has, unsurprisingly, dragged them firmly into the relegation picture.

Manonyane are four points above 15th-placed CCX who occupy the final relegation place, and the Roma side are in real danger of relinquishing the coveted top-flight status they gained in 2020.
Mokhothu pointed to Manonyane’s lengthy injury list as the reason for their struggles.

Thabang Tsakajoe (midfield), Bokang Matobo (striker), Molise Masoabi (midfield) and Bakoena Mosola (fullback) are all injured while Moraphate Nkejane has only recently returned to training.

All five players are key and their absences have hurt a squad that doesn’t have great depth.

“(After the injuries) it became difficult to use the available players in positions they do not play,” Mokhothu said.
The former Lioli and Lesotho Correctional Service mentor admitted Manonyane have to turn the corner quickly.
“We are at the point where we are fighting for a win in every game,” he said.

“We are trying to not put the players under pressure (but) we are in a risky position now, we are now discussing how we can move up the table,” he added.
Having won the league with Lioli and LCS, Mokhothu has experience of what it takes to navigate the challenges of a season. He said Manonyane’s improvement needs to start on Sunday when they host Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) who haven’t had the best of seasons themselves.

The army side, who finished third last season, are in ninth place with 22 points from 12 games and have fallen short of their own pre-season expectations.
“I believe starting from this coming week; we will work hard on winning game after game,” Mokhothu said.

“It might happen that we win or draw in those games but, most importantly, we want to see if our results are pushing us up (the league table) or not,” he said.
He said the team plays well but do not have enough knowledge of how to score goals, something that was evident in their latest blank last Sunday when they lost 1-0 to LCS.
“Last season, we were creating many chances, even if we lost some of the games but we were still converting them unlike the LCS game. On Sunday, most of my attacking players were not there so I ended up making forced changes because of the situation,” he said.

Mokhothu said the LCS game taught him valuable lessons about his players, however.
“We saw who can play where and where some (players) need assistance and I am pleased that if they can hear me out, we can change our way of playing and results,” Mokhothu said.

For that to happen, the club’s supporters will also play a big role, he added.
“The players really need the supporters, so they should always show up and give (the players) hope,” Mokhothu said.
“It is true that the supporters are supporting us with crying hearts but I promise them that, one day, they will get what they expect.”

Relebohile Tšepe

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Afcon lives up to expectations

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CAF President Dr Patrice Motsepe made a bold statement during the opening ceremony of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire that this tournament will go down as the best in the history of the beautiful game.
The tournament has indeed lived up to those expectations as it reaches the quarter-final stage. The continental showpiece has entertained us with everything that every football fanatic would expect from a big continental tourney like the AFCON.

In the last edition of the tournament held in Cameroon, I was able to put my head on the block from the word go that the Terranga Lions, as the Senegal national team is popularly known, would go all the way, which they did as they were crowned champions after defeating Egypt on penalties.

I have tried to do the same with this tournament and I must confess, it was very difficult to make a prediction as to who will walk home champions when the tournament ends on February 11.

At the completion of the group stage, a lot of people had their money on the defending champions Senegal and Morocco, who looked unmatched in the group phase as each won all their games.

Fast forward to the last 16, both countries were eliminated by Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa respectively. Worse for Cote d’Ivoire, their tournament looked to be over when in their last match of group stage, they suffered a humiliating a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Equatorial Guinea, who everyone regarded as minnows.

That was the biggest defeat suffered by AFCON hosts but the Elephants were thrown a lifeline into the round of 16 qualifiers as one of the four best-third placed finishers.
The Ivorian FA didn’t waste time and sacked Frenchman, Jean-Louis Gasset, which didn’t come as a surprise to me as the Elephants were not convincing at all during his spell in charge of the West African country.

I managed to watch his team closely as they played against Likuena in the qualifiers. During the first leg played at the Dobsonville Stadium, the two countries played out to a goalless draw while in San Pedro, the Elephants secured a narrow 1-0 victory.

Former Ivorian international Emerse Fae was tasked with the responsibility of saving the sinking ship of the Elephants, a job he did with aplomb as the hosts fought their way back from a goal down to salvage a 1-1 draw against defending champions, Senegal taking the last 16 tie to penalties, where they won 5-4.
I must say the Elephants looked a different side to the one I saw under Gasset as Fae got them firing to stun the defending champions, who have since packed their bags and gone home.

Cote d’Ivoire were indeed very lucky as the same cannot be said of the likes of Ghana and Algeria, among the big guns sent packing in the group stages of the tournament.
The poor performance of the Black Stars and the Dessert Foxes led to both Chris Hughton and Djamel Belmadi agreeing to step down as the coaches of the West and North African countries respectively.

Morocco is another country that was tipped to contest for the AFCON title, but they also failed to come to the party in their last 16 encounter.
Bafana Bafana won the match 2-0 to book a place in the quarter-finals.
Bafana Bafana have proved a hoodoo for Morocco, who many people thought would win the continental showpiece after their exploits at the 2022 Qatar World Cup, where they became the first African country to reach the semi-finals.

Their struggle against Bafana Bafana is nothing new as it dates to the days of former African Footballer of the Year, Mustafa Hadji.
Bafana Bafana’s opponents in the quarter-finals, Cape Verde, have been the surprise package of the tournament. The Blue Sharks’ remarkable journey in Cote d’Ivoire saw them win a group that had both Egypt and Ghana.

They have since inked a milestone in the history of their country winning a knockout match for the first time after beating Mauritania to set up a showdown against South Africa in the quarter-finals.
Mauritania themselves punched above their weight to have made it to the last 16 at the expense of a powerhouse like Algeria, who they beat 1-0 in the group stage. I have been impressed by their coach, Amir Abdou, who is making a name for himself as one of the best coaches in the continent having achieved a similar feat with Comoros in the previous edition of the tournament.

The one team that was under the microscope going into the tournament for unconvincing performances is Nigeria.
They eliminated Cameroon in the last 16. Their talisman Victor Osimhen has lived up to the billing of having recently been crowned African Footballer of the Year.
He has been the main man for Nigeria so far in the tournament by not only scoring goals, but also providing assists. His attitude and commitment in the field of play has been second to none.

I must say, the Super Eagles looked ordinary without Osimhen as they struggled to get their groove in matches played before AFCON where they were held by Lesotho and Zimbabwe.

Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa have all looked very solid in their last 16 matches and I have a feeling they all have a very good chance of making it to the semi-finals. My gut feeling tells me that the AFCON trophy is going to remain in West Africa with Nigeria or Cote d’Ivoire winning it.
I really think that they tournament has lived up to expectation both on and off the field. Credit goes to the continental football body CAF under the leadership of Patrice Motsepe and Cote d’Ivoire as the host country, for putting so much effort to make the tournament a success.

To the government of Lesotho, this is yet another lesson of how football can be powerful when it has the support of its government as witnessed with countries like Mauritania and Cape Verde, who were deemed as minnows but are making strides in major continental competitions.
I have managed to visit some of these countries as well as others like Comoros, who have also qualified for AFCON tournament in recent years. Their governments have invested hugely in football infrastructure hence they are able to go pound for pound with some of the best in the continent.

Mikia Kalati

 

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