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Luciah Phahla

Maseru

Goalkeeper Sele Thetsane was the biggest winner at a jovial Kick4Life awards dinner last Friday as he bagged the club’s player of the season honour and a M1 500 cash prize.

Thetsane, who came through Kick4Life’s development ranks, gave an emotional acceptance speech saying it was a struggle to break into the first team.

And, having conceded 26 goals this past season, Thetsane said he can still do better.

“It has been a tough journey for me to be where I am. I struggled for game time and I have always wanted a chance to prove myself that I can do better. It’s not about me, it’s teamwork, team effort and I would like thank our goalkeeper coach and the other goalkeepers here at Kick4Life,” Thetsane said when accepting his prize.

Speaking to thepost afterwards, Thetsane added that his dream is to play abroad and represent Lesotho. He said he is going to work hard next season to give national interim coach Moses Maliehe a headache when selecting goalkeepers for Likuena.

“My dream is to play outside Lesotho and to represent Lesotho. I am aiming to work hard next season. Last season I was focused only on getting game-time and, when I did get it, my personal goal was to keep seven consecutive clean-sheets. But, I only managed to keep four and the goalkeeper coach really helped me,” Thetsane smiled.

“It was not difficult to adjust to the change of coaches because coach Leslie Notši loves hard-workers and he gave most players a chance to play,” he added.

Kick4Life were promoted to the Vodacom Premier League in 2014 under the guidance of Motlalepula Majoro and managed to avoid relegation in their debut top-flight campaign.

The Old Europa club built on that achievement and this year defied all the odds to finish sixth in the premiership under the tutelage of former Lesotho coach Notši who replaced Majoro last November.

Speaking at the awards ceremony, Notši said he found the Kick4Life job offer a challenging proposition when he received it. He dedicated the team’s ensuing success to the quality of the club’s leadership, from management to the players. Notši said this helped overcome the tragic death of Kick4Life player Kabelo Mohapi last December.

“Nobody knew when I started six months ago that we would be here today celebrating. I found the Kick4Life offer very challenging but I accepted it and the reception from everyone was perfect,” Notši said.

He added: “We had a very drastic thing losing one of our best players (Mohapi), the players had to adjust and we mapped the way forward.”

“The willingness to learn and self-belief to work hard was there from the players and I think we have one of the best (ball possession) numbers in the league. Good quality leadership in the team, from the director of football to the technical team, also made the difference,” he said.

Notši said he is anticipating a difficult 2016/17 season and urged his players to take care of themselves during the off-season break.

“It is going to be very tough in the upcoming season. All teams are preparing and everybody will be looking at us. Football is not an on-field thing only, look after yourself at home and be role models,” he said to the players.

The club’s director of football Chris Bullock added the team’s success this season can be demonstrated by the number of national team call-ups Kick4Life received.

“Change is always difficult. The previous coach (Motlalepula Majoro) took us to the premier league and kept us here. He did really a good job. I think we have about four or five players that are with the (national) Under-20 and two with the national team Likuena. I think we have the best young players in the country and it proves the progress at Kick4Kife.  We have two players that have been selected for scholarship in the (United States); Mako Makoanyane, he is with the Under-20, and Lesia Thetsane,” Bullock said.

Other winners on the night included Morapeli Lesoetsa who won the Kick4Life’s top goalscorer award after netting seven goals this season. The young player of the season went to Mako Makoanyane who comes from the club’s development ranks and the most improved player of the season was won by Tšeliso Ramafikeng. The awards each went along with a M500 prize.

Lesia Thetsane was voted by his peers as the players’ player of the season and took home M1 000. There was also a special award presented to the club’s supporter of the year which went to Lineo Letlai.

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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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