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Mongoya says up for challenge

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MASERU – It has been over a month since Moeketsi Mongoya took over the reins as Bantu coach on a two-year deal.

With the Vodacom Premier League still not underway, the South Africa-born coach is yet to take charge of his first competitive game, but he has been hard at work preparing his team for the new season.

Mongoya permanently replaces fellow South African Thabo Tsutsulupa who was sacked in February four games into what was a six-month contract.

There has also been a huge South African success story at Bantu in the form of James Madidilane who stylishly led Bantu to league titles in 2017 and 2018 and gained a rare CAF Champions League triumph for Lesotho with a victory over Township Rollers of Botswana in 2018.

The bosses in Mafeteng have asked for a league title from Mongoya and he is aware wrestling the championship from Matlama will not be easy, especially with the likes of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) gunning for the championship as well.

The former Orlando Pirates Reserves head coach, who also served as an assistant coach for Sekhukhune United and Chippa United in South Africa’s top-flight DSTV Premiership, is not fazed by the competition, however.

In fact, Mongoya said he is relishing the challenge ahead. In a sit-down interview with thepost on Sunday, the South African tactician spoke at length about his time in Mafeteng so far and his plans for ‘A Matšo Matebele’.

When you were contacted and offered the job, what made you get interested in it?

I think it was the potential the team has. I looked at the history of the team and the fact that they have played in the (CAF) Champions League before.

I was given a mandate to try to win the league so that the team can go back there (to the CAF Champions League).

The biggest factor was the love of football that Basotho have and their passion – there is no small game – it is a part of what brought me here. I am an ambitious individual that likes to win. I am very competitive, so when I heard the bosses speak, they were very ambitious.

How have you been settling in the country so far?

Off the field it was a bit challenging settling and adapting to the culture and the environment itself but the boys have made it easy. The club management has also helped us settle and make us feel at home.

On the field we are still studying the football here. We had the opportunity to watch the Alliance Winter Challenge (last weekend) and it was very competitive (with) Linare, Matlama, Lioli and (Lesotho Correctional Service).

All four teams were on top form and we have played against three of them except Linare. We have been following these teams but the only one we have not seen is (Lesotho Mounted Police Service), but already you get the impression that (LMPS) is very physical and competitive.

I got the opportunity to sit amongst the supporters to hear their language, the only thing they know is to win. Every team wants to dominate the space and that’s how we want to play. We want to dominate the game with the ball and without it, with the results coming as well.

The last permanent South African coach Bantu had was James Madidilane and he was very successful here. Do you feel pressure to emulate him?

The only pressure I am feeling is what I put on myself. We’ve got to respect what he has achieved and done, he has set the tone. He has also helped me settle by sharing his knowledge about football in Lesotho. I put myself under pressure because I am very competitive, I never settle for second best (or) mediocre.

I want to leave a mark. He has also left a mark. I want to leave a mark with a meaning because I am joining a team that is 93 years old this year. It’s a big thing, it is older than Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa. It is a team that is very big and must get to that level to be a continental team.

The most important thing is to help the boys grow and go back to having eight or nine players in the national team and also contribute to what the national team is doing.

There was a feeling from many people last season that Bantu needed a rebuild. What has been your impression since arriving?

It’s a very difficult task but I don’t want to be in the phase of rebuilding and not competing. The rebuilding part is to help the team sustain because if you look at the players like (Tšoanelo) Koetle, they have been with the team for a long time, but we’ve got to start planning for what happens if they leave for greener pastures.

What we want is to see them achieving something great. We want to see Bantu losing two or three players to greater leagues, but at the very same time we would like their experience and knowledge.

They know the culture of the team and we want them to share it with the younger players. That is why even the players we are signing, we made sure they are from Lesotho. We didn’t want to bring in a lot of foreigners and ruin the team, which would also affect the national team as well.

Tlalane Phahla

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League back with a bang!

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MASERU – Several Vodacom Premier League clubs have confirmed their playing squads ahead of the new 2022/23 season which starts on Saturday.

Bantu have unveiled a new look team which they hope will rival reigning champions Matlama for the title.

‘A Matšo Matebele’ begin their title challenge away against Lifofane in Butha-Buthe on Saturday and it will also be the first official game for their new coach Moeketsi Mongoya.

Many are predicting Bantu can wrestle the title away from ‘Tse Putsoa’ based on the quality of signings they have made.

Former fan favourite Maloisane Ramasimong is back in Mafeteng after joining the club on a free transfer from Chippa United in South Africa’s DSTV Premiership.

Bantu have also been able to retain their trusted core of key players which includes the likes of Hlompho Kalake, Lehlohonolo Fothoane and Itumeleng Falene.

The only area that is looking thin is the striking department after the departures of Lazola Jokojokwnane to Matlama and Mokone Marabe.

With the transfer window closed until January, ‘A Matšo Matebele’ look short upfront with Tšeliso Botsane, Thabiso Mahola and Sentle Masale, the only recognised strikers at the club.

Ultimately, however, Bantu’s success this season will depend on how quickly the players and new technical team gel together and how their rivals perform.

Champions Matlama, meanwhile, will not be in action this weekend as they will be in Cameroon to face Cotonsport in the CAF Champions League which means they will be playing catch-up straight away.

The situation is not ideal for Matlama because by the time they play their first game of the season, some teams would have played two games already.

Another title hopeful this season is Lioli and they officially confirmed Bob Mafoso as their new head coach this week. The former Lesotho Under-20 coach has been in charge of the club’s preseason games and this is his first job since leaving Bantu last season.

Speaking to thepost ahead Lioli’s opening game against Swallows on Sunday, Mafoso said the opening games of the season are always difficult but very important to win.

Mafoso, who guided Bantu to the league title in 2020, will be looking to bring success back to Lioli. The Teya-teyaneng giants have not won the league since 2016 and have finished outside the top four for the past three seasons.

“It comes with a bit of pressure, it is very important to win but it is also a difficult game for everyone,” Mafoso said of the side’s league opener against Swallows.

“You come from preseason preparations and you are at home and everyone is expecting to see the difference,” he added.

The start of the Vodacom Premier League will coincide with a promotional play-off between Limkokwing University and Naughty Boys who were the respective runners-up from last season’s first division north and south stream campaigns.

Only one of the two teams will get promoted to fill the vacant spot left by Kick4Life, and the winner will be decided with a winner-takes-all match at Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena on Saturday.

Weekend fixtures:
Saturday (15:00)
CCX vs. LCS (LAC)
Manonyane vs. LMPS (Nyakosoba)
Lifofane vs. Bantu (Butha-Buthe)

Sunday
Galaxy vs. Liphakoe (DIFA Leribe)
Lioli vs. Swallows (TY)
LDF vs. Linare (Ha Ratjomose)

Tlalane Phahla

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Future is bright for Mehalalitoe

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MASERU – For a long time, Lesotho’s national women’s team, Mehalalitoe, have been the butt of jokes on social media and the players have often had to deal with unsavoury comments and, at times, even homophobia.

What many do not realise is how their mean commentary on the team affects players mentally.

Yes, the performance of the national women’s team in the past has warranted some criticism, and they should be criticised when it is justified, but, more than anything, Mehalalitoe needs support.

Before the team departed for the 2022 COSAFA Women’s Championship three weeks ago, the side’s head coach, Pule Khojane, praised the positive spirit within the camp and he felt this time around Mehalalitoe’s performances would reflect their positive energy.

That positivity reigned throughout the tournament.

Mehalalitoe were upbeat when they arrived in Port Elizabeth for the regional showpiece and they appeared determined to improve their tattered reputation in the competition.
The team’s management took the lead.

Lesotho were staying at the same hotel as Eswatini and Botswana. Prior to their opening Group B game against Eswatini, their opponents asked for a team-bonding meeting but Mehalalitoe were not having it.

Their answer was that they were not there to make friends but to compete. They suggested to Eswatini that the bonding happen after the game which, of course, never happened. Eswatini were beaten 3-0.

On the way to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, the players were in good spirits; they hardly sat down on the bus and sang all the way from the hotel to the stadium.

In Port Elizabeth, Mehalalitoe had a close-knit family which believed in them, including Mahlohonolo, a Xhosa lady who was Lesotho’s loud and proud team liaison officer at the COSAFA Women’s Championship.

She never sat down during Lesotho’s matches and she shouted at the top of her lungs for the full 90 minutes cheering for the players.

If you entered Mehalalitoe’s dressing room ahead of their opener you would have been forgiven for thinking they had just won the whole tournament, but they hadn’t even played.

Was that their way of calming nerves? Or maybe it was a sign of togetherness in the team, a group that had one goal and confidence in each other?

Even more inspiring for the team was that they were with their leader, Boitumelo Rabale, who had hopped off the plane from Johannesburg that morning straight into the line-up.

The Mamelodi Sundowns star and African club champion went on and wrote her name all over the tie scoring a hat-trick.

The skipper had been complaining about exhaustion before the game but insisted on fighting with her teammates on the pitch. She was visibly tired against Eswatini, and understandably so, she had just played a day before for her club which is why her participation had been in doubt.

Rabale played four games in seven days, which is unheard off. Still, her quality shone throughout and it is no surprise that she was selected into the team of the tournament when all was said and done.

Surprisingly, there were no over-the-top celebrations after Lesotho beat Eswatini. Instead, the players wanted to rest and their minds were already on the next game.

That said, the players were beaming with happiness after beating Eswatini because it was Mehalalitoe’s first win since 2017. Lately the team had not just been losing, even scoring goals was a big ask for Lesotho.

The players believed their win over Eswatini was a milestone moment.

Then came Zambia three days later, a game I had personally been dreading.

I cracked jokes with Zambian reporters prior to the game who suggested Lesotho would gladly take a point and not play the game if offered; I agreed.

The match ended 7-0 to Zambia, with Barbara Banda running the show. It’s not like Mehalalitoe were outclassed, they were outdone by individual mistakes. Khojane felt it was a difficult game mentally for his players as they faced a team that just finished third at the CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in July.

Khojane said conceding three quick goals in the first half affected Mehalalitoe and he insisted the final score-line did not reflect his side’s performance on the pitch.

Zambia went on to be crowned champions of the COSAFA Women’s Championships and there is no shame in losing to one of the giants of women’s football on the continent who also happen to be bound for the FIFA Women’s World Cup next year.

Lesotho’s final group game was against Namibia two days after the defeat to Zambia and the match would decide who gets the last spot into the semi-finals.

Normally, after a big defeat, you would expect a sombre mood but it was not the case with Mehalalitoe.

The following training session after losing to Zambia was the most cheerful that I have seen. It was a light one and the players teased each other.

They formed two small groups and enjoyed a little rivalry they had created. Khojane then put them up for a crossbar challenge and they loved that one.

The relationship between the coaching staff and the players is intriguing because while there is a clear level of respect, there is also a lot of playfulness. The players seemed more comfortable with either the team’s assistant coach, Makobo Kepa, or goalkeeper coach, Robert Mojakhomo.

Although Mehalalitoe went on to lose 2-0 to Namibia, and it was a painful defeat, they did everything right and they fell behind against the run of play.

With all the positivity, there are still some glaring problems in the team, mainly the goalkeeping department. Some of the goals Mehalalitoe conceded were avoidable and could have been saved.

Some were just down to bad positioning.

Khojane vowed his team will return better and stronger. Mehalalitoe have definitely shown signs of improvement and one thing is clear: there is something different about this group of players.

They could do with more public support.

Tlalane Phahla

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We’ve a base to build on, says Motene

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PORT ELIZABETH – The president of the Lesotho Women’s Football Executive Committee, Baholo Motene, has heaped praises on the women’s senior national team, Mehalalitoe.

Mehalalitoe are fresh off a promising display at the 2022 COSAFA Women’s Championship in South Africa and Motene said the team’s performances showed growth and all the players need now is more game-time and international experience.

Because of Lesotho’s previous performances at the regional showpiece, no one had given Mehalalitoe much of a chance but they exceeded all expectations and surprised many.

Lesotho beat Eswatini 3-0 in their opener and then put up highly competitive displays against Namibia and Zambia who are headed to the FIFA Women’s World Cup next year.

Motene, a former Lesotho international herself, said Mehalalitoe’s displays have laid the groundwork for the players to return home and continue growing women’s football in the country.

Motene also praised the presence of Lesotho’s six South Africa based players whom she said brought experience and know-how that helped their teammates.

Lesotho’s South Africa based players:

Litšeoane Maloro (TUT), Boitumelo Rabale (Mamelodi Sundowns), Boitumelo Nkeane (Inter Madrid), ‘Mamakhabane Makibinyane (Diepkloof Ladies), Kefuoe Makoa (Inter Madrid), Mosili Motsoeneng (Royal AM)

The team’s preparations also helped.

Unlike is often the case with Lesotho’s sports teams, Mehalalitoe’s preparations were well prepared and well executed.

Mehalalitoe started practicing as early as April by training three times a week with locally based players under coach Pule Khojane.

The only challenge Khojane and the team faced was getting international friendly games to get ready for the tournament.

Ultimately, Lesotho never got the chance to play matches against other countries but the team did source games against clubs in South Africa which proved helpful.

“When we were supposed to play against the national teams, the countries we wanted to play against were busy,” Motene said.

“When we were approaching the COSAFA (Cup) we agreed with those countries but then we found out that we are in the same group with them,” she added.

Motene is encouraged by the improvements the team showed in Gqeberha where the championship was held.

 

Previously, Mehalalitoe were not only leaking goals like a sieve in defence, but they were not scoring either.
They may have only been able to score in one game this year but that alone was a giant step in the right direction for a team that had not scored a goal since September 2018 in a match against Mozambique.

“The way I saw the coaches, they were right,” Motene said of the team’s preparations.

“They also got everything they needed with the help of (the Lesotho Football Association), and we had their support until we called our internationals. The arrival of the South African based players boosted our camp because their league is higher, the experience they have helped us that we managed to get three points from Eswatini,” she added.

Motene continued: “Zambia is too strong for us, they just came back from (the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations where they finished third), they went to the Olympics and they are now on the journey to the World Cup.

We haven’t played since 2020. We come back with three points and having conceded nine overall, there is growth we just need more game time.”

Motene said she believes there are more areas of the team to work on and improve, including some tactical work for the coaches.

Mehalalitoe head coach Pule Khojane, called a totally different squad to the one that was humiliated in 2020 at the COSAFA Women’s Championship. Although he recalled some players and the squad is still heavily dominated by Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) players, this new Mehalalitoe squad is a young team that now needs to stick together and grow.

Tlalane Phahla

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