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Queen: a dream fulfilled

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MASERU – The phrase ‘mohale o tsoa maroeleng’ could not to be truer in the case of Mehalalitoe captain Boitumelo Rabale who wrote history two weeks ago by becoming the first Mosotho to win a CAF Champions League title.
Rabale is the first African champion Lesotho football has produced and she did it in style when her South African club Mamelodi Sundowns outclassed Ghana’s Hasaacas Ladies 2-0 in Cairo, Egypt, to claim the maiden CAF Women’s Champions League trophy.

Rabale’s journey to the pinnacle of the game started in Qoaling where she grew up a stone’s throw away from the Qoaling Highlanders football ground.
This is where Rabale played as a kid and, as we pass by, children probably aged 10 years are also enjoying the beautiful game, dreaming of becoming the next ‘Queen, as Rabale is known.
The ground is bare and bumpy, but, even though they are risking injuries, the kids do not care as they romp joyously while by-standing coaches watch on.

Passion for the game flows through their veins and after Rabale’s conquest one child we approach says you never know who is watching.
The fact that Rabale used to play on these same grounds as a kid and still visits whenever she is home is a huge source of motivation.
We made a visit to her childhood home after heavy rainfall and reaching her home was a nightmare. At times it felt as if our car would get stuck in the muddy roads and it was just proof that your background should never define who you are.

Rabale’s journey to the top is one of intrigue, heart-warming courage and determination to succeed, no matter what.
A lot has been written about the Mehalalitoe star’s journey to stardom and when we meet her grandfather, Malefetsane Rantsatsi, he beams as he tells his version of Queen’s upbringing and her love affair with football.
From a very young age Rabale loved football and was always at the grounds playing football with the boys.
Her behaviour was unusual to Rantsatsi who expected his granddaughter to be at home or playing with other girls. As with most parents, Rantsatsi struggled to understand Rabale’s uncommon behaviour but even threats of beatings did not dissuade her.

Eventually Rantsatsi and his wife gave in.
“It was surprising to see a young girl playing football with boys and you would ask yourself what is wrong with her. She played from a very young age and that was the only thing she loved the most,” he says.
Even so, Rabale faced disapproval from her family and it wasn’t until she received her first call-up to the national women’s team in 2014 that her family realised how talented she was.
From there their disapproval turned to support and that support drives Rabale till today.

Rantsatsi has never seen his granddaughter play in person and he says it is the only thing he longs for. Watching her on television is not the same, he adds.
Unfortunately, travelling to South Africa has been difficult, not just because of Rantsatsi’s old age but because the Covid-19 pandemic has made travelling problematic.
Rabale’s big break came with Kick4Life Ladies in the Women’s Super League where she was one of the standout performers. Her stellar performances earned her a scholarship to the United States in 2018 to study and continue with her football, thanks to Kick4Life.

She enjoyed considerable success most notably with Lewis and Clark Community College (LCCC) where she was named the 2020 National Junior College Women’s Soccer Player of the Year after finishing as top scorer with 57 goals and 33 assists to help the Trailblazers to a third-place finish in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) championship.
The midfield dynamo had already represented Bloemfontein Celtic in South Africa, where she captained to the league title in 2016 and 2017, but took a step further in her career in July when she joined Mamelodi Sundowns who have become juggernauts of the women’s game across the border.

Although, Queen hasn’t played as much as she had hoped so far, her quality has always shone through when she has got a chance. That was the case when she helped Sundowns qualify for the Champions League by scoring in the final as Sundowns won the first-ever COSAFA Women’s Champions League in September.
Now she is an African champion, it is not just Rabale’s family that is over the moon for her. Her neighbours, who have known her all her life, couldn’t contain themselves when Sundowns won the Champions League.
Queen has not been home since her triumph but she will be received like a champion according to her neighbour ‘Matjoloba Chabana who says her son used to play football with Rabale.

“She used to play football with my son, and I used to wonder what kind of girl is she going to be because all I was seeing was a boy who was always dirty with my son,” Chabana says.
“But we could see the future and she went on playing football until where she is now. I consider her my daughter; I am very happy. I don’t even know what to say,” Chabana smiles.

The only person who was not around when we visited the Rabale home was her mother, ‘Mabulara Rabale, who is described as a pillar of strength to her daughter.
Rabale’s mother had travelled to Mafeteng on a business trip but has been a constant support.
In 2018, she was the one who accepted Rabale’s Sports Star of the Year award in her absence during the Lesotho Annual Sport Awards (LASA).

Earlier this year when Rabale was still undergoing trials at Sundowns, it was her mother who led efforts to ensure her daughter had transportation to and from South Africa.
Her mother’s touch has also kept Rabale grounded and focused.
Her grandfather, Rantsatsi, says Rabale has never elevated herself above others but remains humble.
“Her life has not changed, she is still the same,” he explains. “When she is here you will find her at the ground playing football. She doesn’t think she is better now; she is still the same person.”

It may take decades for another Mosotho to achieve what Rabale has accomplished but she has inspired scores of women and men in the country to pursue their dreams. Leaders of women’s football say they have also been motivated to keep working hard and to grow the women’s game.
For now, Rabale is chasing the next prize.
Sundowns are on course to claim South Africa’s national women’s league title which would further enhance Rabale’s glowing and inspiring CV.

Tlalane 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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