MASERU – The Maputsoe DIFA Ground was painted blue and white on Sunday as Matlama were officially crowned champions of the long-drawn-out 2020/21 Vodacom Premier League season.
This was an unusual campaign that took two years to complete because of the COVID-19 pandemic which took hold in 2020.
Originally scheduled to run from September 2020 to May 2021, the 2020/21 season was derailed by two lengthy stoppages and only resumed to a finish last November.
The delays meant the 2021/22 season was scrapped but, at least, Lesotho has a champion that will play in the CAF Champions League next season after missing out on the current continental campaign.
That honour will go to Matlama who were front runners for the title since the league season restarted and whose job was made easier by their competitors recklessly dropping points.
With the season concluded, we look back at its winners and losers.
The obvious winners are champions Matlama who braved a difficult season and seemed to adjust better under the circumstances. ‘Tse Putsoa’ were the most consistent team after the restart.
In fact, from December until March, ‘Tse Putsoa’ won a remarkable eight matches in a row which essentially sealed the title. Matlama’s performances only dropped in the final weeks of the season when they had already wrapped up the season.
The club’s caretaker coach, Molebatsi Mothobi, was hired in June 2021 to replace Malawian coach Charles Manda and, at the time, few could have predicted he would guide Matlama to the championship.
Jane Thabantšo was Matlama’s standout performer and main source of goals this season. However, Mothobi insisted Matlama played as a team and everybody was given the responsibility of getting goals and helping the team.
While the club and supporters bask in glory, Mothobi is already plotting for next season and he said they aim to win the “next three titles.” First, Matlama’s board has to confirm if it will give Mothobi the head coach job permanently.
Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)
LDF were perhaps the most improved team in the league this season and it is no surprise that they pipped Bantu to second place. A team that has struggled to score goals in previous seasons, LDF scored 49 goals in 30 games this term.
‘Sohle-Sohle’ also produced the league’s top goalscorer in Katleho Makateng who topped the charts with 20 goals this season, breaking the previous record of 18 goals set by Motebang Sera in 2018.
If LDF continue their performances next year, they may give Matlama a run for their money when it comes to the title. LDF ended the season on a seven-match winning streak. They were unbeaten in their last nine matches winning eight of them.
This was another season where Swallows looked nailed on to go down, but they somehow managed to stay up, this time thanks to former player Teele Ntšonyana. As the team was battling relegation, Ntšonyana stepped in on a voluntary basis in February and his main job was to help keep the team up. It is unclear if he will stay on as a coach but he said it is a “mission accomplished” for him.
However, Swallows cannot rely on lucky escapes every season and will have to do things differently next season and collect points early to avoid a nervy ending and another relegation dogfight. While it was sad for many to see Likhopo go down, it meant Swallows survived another year.
For three consecutive seasons Lioli have finished outside the top four and they have not been close to challenging for the league title since 2018 when they finished second. ‘Tse Nala’ finished fifth on the log with 53 points and while nobody expected Lioli to challenge for the title, a top-four finish did not sound unreasonable.
However, their poor performances underlined by a lack of squad depth meant they had to settle for fifth position. Lioli head coach Mosholi Mokhothu has been open about the thin squad he has had to work with this season and that when Lioli get overwhelmed in games, they do not have players to bring in from the bench unlike some of their rivals.
Lioli squad is predominantly made up of young and new players and the lack of experience has been felt especially in big games that needed character. The rebuild is set to continue next season.
If there is a team that cannot blame anyone but themselves for their problems this season, it is Bantu. Before the season was suspended, ‘A Matšo Matebele’ were going well under Bob Mafoso and it looked like they would defend their title.
Their troubles mainly started when Mafoso left the team in January because Bantu could not agree on a new contract with their 2019/20 league winning coach. The uncertainty over the new man in charge saw their season unravel in the way they would not have expected.
When Mafoso left, Bantu were firmly in the title race and he was replaced by Thabo Tsutsulupa who only lasted four weeks. Tsutsulupa was a horrendous coach and under his brief leadership, the strikers not only stopped scoring, but the defence started conceding more goals than usual.
After four games, it was clear that Tsutsulupa was out of his depth and had taken Bantu out of the race.
He was sacked but nothing really changed as Bantu struggled for the rest of the season and could only settle for fourth position.
Perhaps the saddest story of this season has seen one of the most popular and decorated teams in Likhopo get relegated to the A Division. Many in the football fraternity have taken time to bid farewell and remember the fallen giant.
The ‘Red Army’ had been flirting with relegation for some time but were able to pull themselves out of difficult situations.
Likhopo have not made their problems a secret and their lack of squad depth ultimately cost them their Premier League status. Despite spirited efforts from head coach Halemakale Mahlaha and the players, the fight was too big for them. Likhopo are one team that was greatly affected by midweek games and putting a team of students together was a challenge.
Mahlaha was open about the problems Likhopo went through just to have a team at training. Sometimes on match-days he could only work with the players that pitched up because some could not make it because of work commitments.
Rabale eyes Champions League glory
Lesotho women’s team captain Boitumelo Rabale has her eyes on winning her second CAF Women’s Champions League with Mamelodi Sundowns as the tournament gets underway this weekend.
The third edition of the prestigious women’s club football is scheduled for Ivory Coast from November 5-19, where eight clubs will battle it out to be crowned Queens of the continent.
“Queen”, as the Lesotho star is commonly known, was part of the Sundowns squad that was crowned champions of the inaugural edition of the tournament held in Egypt two years ago, becoming the first player from the Mountain Kingdom to taste Champions League success.
She has become one of the key players in Jerry Tshabalala’s squad having walked away with the Hollywoodbets Player of the Season in the previous campaign and currently leads the goal-scoring charts with 21 goals.
“It was exciting to win the CAF Women’s Champions League with Sundowns two years ago and in the process becoming the first player from Lesotho to do so,” Rabale said.
“I felt very lucky and honoured to make history. It gave me confidence to continue working hard and strive for more success with the club”
Sundowns head to the tournament as regional champions after clinching the COSAFA qualifiers to qualify for the continental showpiece, where they will kickstart their campaign against Tanzania’s JKT Queens on Sunday.
Rabale admitted that memories of losing the last final to AS FAR still haunts them, but they head to Ivory Coast a better team than in the last tournament.
“We learnt the hard way when we lost in the final to AS FAR and we come back a better team having rectified our mistakes.
“It’s our dream to conquer the continent again and I have no doubt that we have what it takes to get our second star in Ivory Coast.
“It will be very good to add the second CAF Champions League medal to my trophy cabinet,” she said.
The 27-year-old has been prolific for Sundowns this campaign having scored nine goals in her last five matches to take her tally for this campaign to 21 goals.
Sundowns are in Group A alongside tournament hosts, Athletico Abidjan, Sporting Casablanca of Morocco, as well as Tanzania’s JKT Queen.
Since joining Sundowns in 2021, Rabale has won the Hollywoodbets Super League twice, the COSAFA Zonal qualifiers twice as well as the CAF Women’s Champions League and is the reigning Hollywoodbets Player of the season.
Red Skins fail to raise funds for championship
Lesotho volleyball giants Red Skins have failed to raise funds for the 2023 Zone 6 Senior Indoor Volleyball Club Championship they are set to host in December.
Red Skins will host the competition together with four other local volleyball clubs – Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Lesotho Mounted Police Station (LMPS) and Rivers – and the tournament is expected to start on December 7 and end 10 days later.
Without any funds or sponsors coming in, Red Skins will have to foot the bill from their pockets for the tournament which will see teams from 10 countries converge on Maseru.
Among the participating nations, Botswana is expected to bring the biggest contingent with 12 teams, with Zambia following closely behind with nine teams while Zimbabwe is set to be represented by six teams.
Two weeks ago, Red Skins participated in the Elite Cup in Gauteng, South Africa, which was hosted by Aqua Darshan Volleyball.
Red Skins hoped to win the tournament and return home with a hefty jackpot but they only collected M5 000 which was won by the men’s team.
A gala dinner that Red Skins hosted last weekend also failed to generate income due to low attendance and speaking to thepost on Tuesday, the club’s vice-captain, Moleboheng Mofolo, said they will have to push on with what they have to host the tournament.
Mofolo said they no longer have time to come up with other means to raise funds.
“Tournaments will require us to find sponsorships and we do not have time now, we have to focus and train well,” Mofolo said.
“Our coach already told us to camp from this week but rain is our biggest challenge because we cannot continue with the training,” she added.
Mofolo said Red Skins are fortunate that participating teams are going to take care of their accommodation and catering. She said if Red Skins had to provide those services, they would not have been able to manage.
She pleaded with individuals, organisations and companies to help the team, whether it is by offering accommodation, food, or whatever little they may have.
Giants avoid each other in Top 4 clash
Women Super League (WSL) giants Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Ladies and Kick4Life Ladies have avoided each other in the WSL Top 4 knockout competition.
The two-day showpiece takes centre stage this weekend at Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena and it will see last season’s top four finishers in the league – LDF, Kick4Life, Lijabatho and Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) Ladies – go head-to-head for bragging rights.
The draw for the competition took place last Friday and the semi-finals will see LDF go up against Lijabatho while Kick4Life will take on LMPS Ladies.
Both semi-finals will be played on Saturday with the tournament culminating the following day.
Sunday’s proceedings will kick-off with a third-place playoff game to determine who walks away with the bronze medals before the final later in the day.
All four games over the two days will be streamed on the FIFA+ website and the WSL Top 4 will usher in a new sponsor this year.
In the past, the Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) fully bankrolled the competition, however, Computer Business Solutions (CBS) has come on board with a sponsorship for the first time.
The competition’s prize monies have not been revealed because they are still being finalised, but, speaking at last Friday’s draw, LEFA’s associations secretary general, Mokhosi Mohapi, said the relationship with CBS is one that sport should engage in.
Mohapi added his hopes that the relationship will be a long-term one.
“While others are busy at their thing, we should really grow ours so that when their distraction finally ends, they find us as united as we can be as the football community,” Mohapi said.
“(We should be) united by the efforts and inputs that emanate from the business community, especially when it is a truly Lesotho business entity because other (foreign entities) are here to take money,” he said.
Addressing CBS as the tournament’s sponsor, Mohapi said: “We are thankful as LEFA for your initiative; (we) hope you will be in this marriage quite long. We know we are just testing the waters but we have a lot that can entice you to stay longer, not only my command but the instruments that we have.”
Mohapi said LEFA’s dream is that in two years’ time all league matches will be streaming on the FIFA+ platform which was launched last April by football’s world governing body to increase exposure of men and women’s football around the globe.
Currently, only three grounds in the country have the structures for broadcasting; Bambatha as well as the grounds at LDF and Lesotho Correctional Service grounds, and all are in Maseru.
LEFA plans to add more grounds to the list with the DIFA facilities in Maputsoe and Mohale’s Hoek set to be the first to follow suit.
“All our women’s competitions, cup competitions and (Vodacom) Premier League matches that will be played in those stadia that have our infrastructure – we will be able to stream those games internationally,” Mohapi said.
“We have extended our footprint,” he added.
“We are now doing LDF – we have already put up the structure – then we are moving to Maputsoe and, hopefully, Mohale’s Hoek. It is our desire that in two years’ time we will hopefully cover all the matches and put them on the FIFA+ streaming platform.”
WSL Top 4 fixtures:
Lijabatho Ladies vs. LDF Ladies
LMPS Ladies vs. Kick4Life Ladies
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