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Winners & losers of the season

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MASERU – The curtain finally came down on the 2022/23 Vodacom Premier League season with Bantu being crowned the champions for the fifth time in their history.

‘A Matšo Matebele’ sealed the title last Saturday at Setsoto Stadium with a 3-0 victory over Lifofane.

The Mafeteng giants went into the game virtually champions because of a healthy three-point lead and goal difference cushion they had over second-placed Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) who had a tough trip to Leribe to face Linare on the final day.

LDF ended up losing 2-0 to Linare.

After an entertaining league campaign where there have been surprise packages and some awful performances, we look at the clubs that have had good seasons and those that come out of this campaign losers.

Winners:

Bantu

Last season was a bad one for Bantu who failed to defend their title and jumped from one interim coach to another in a scramble to save their season.

However, the champions came prepared this season and corrected their mistakes. It was clear that their intentions were different from day one.

South African tactician, Abram Mongoya, was brought in at the start of the season and many predicted Bantu would win the title.

At some point those predictions appeared to be comfortably on track and it looked as if ‘A Matšo Matebele’ were running away with the championship.

However, a poor run of matches between February and April allowed their competitors back into the title race. Bantu lost three out of four games in that period and LDF leapfrogged them when they beat the Mafeteng side 1-0 early last month.

That result in Mohale’s Hoek saw Mongoya leave his position as the head coach and it appeared LDF were in control while Bantu were in turmoil.

However, LDF inexplicably slipped up and allowed ‘A Matšo Matebele’ to reclaim top spot and Bantu never looked back.

After giving the reins to Bob Mafoso on a short-term contract last month, Bantu won five of their six games to seal the championship. Although Mafoso does not like taking credit, he turned the club’s fortunes around and inspired confidence into the players who looked more motivated after he took over.

It is Mafoso’s second league title for Bantu as a head coach after leading them to the crown in 2020 before he left for Lioli.

It is fitting that Bantu end the season with a double after winning the People’s Cup in April to bring their total prize money for the season to M750 000. Bantu started the season without a recognised experienced centre forward.

Tšeliso Botsane and Thabiso Mahola as well as Sentle Masale were the players trusted with goals. Mahola was decent for the first 10 games but fell off. Botsane is the one who enjoyed the most game-time but his return in terms of goals has been poor.

He found himself in good positions but lacked the finishing touch and that was his story the whole season. If he could finish, Bantu would have blown teams away easily.

It wasn’t until Litšepe Marabe returned from a short stint overseas in January that Bantu started posing a serious threat upfront.

Linare

This has been Linare’s best season in almost a decade. ‘Tse Tala’ have failed to finish in the Top 4 for nine seasons in a row and have been a mid-table club that has not had a double digits point advantage over relegation teams during that time span. In fact, to find the last time Linare finished in the Top 4, you have to scroll down to the 2013/14 season when they finished third.

This season Linare contested for the league against a very good Bantu side and were rewarded with a second-place finish. This is progress the club can build on for next season and push further.

In his maiden season with the club, Leslie Notši has done a good job, far better than any other coach. Yet, he has been whistled by entitled Linare fans who think they know better than the former

Likuena coach and has been vilified by some members of the media for the type of football he plays. That is the football that has made Notši who he is, and Linare appointed him knowing how he likes to play.

Where this entitlement comes from is astonishing for a club that hasn’t won anything. Numbers do not lie, this has been Linare’s best season and they would be foolish to let Notši go. After all, their beloved Tebogo Moloi finished below eighth in the league last season and he left them languishing in mid-table when Notši took over last year.

LMPS

LMPS were perhaps one of the most improved teams in the league this season and are deservedly in the Top 4. This is a team that struggled to score goals in the first six games of the season. They had more draws than goals but somehow picked themselves up as the season progressed.

Goal-scoring is a big problem for the police side, they have scored the least number of goals in the Top six but they have also conceded a low number. Only Bantu (13) and Linare (16) have conceded fewer goals than ‘Simunye’ this season.

Their solid defence led by Likuena captain Basia Makepe did a solid job and Makepe also chipped in with goals for the club. If they can improve on this performance, there is no reason why they cannot push for a top two finish next season.

Losers

Matlama

There is no other place to start than the defending champions who did everything in their power to embarrass themselves this season and succeeded at it. This has been a horrendous season for Matlama and the despicable behaviour of their supporters in Morija earlier in the season is the icing on the cake.

Fresh off from a trailblazing and historic season, where they blew out the competition, Matlama failed to even get fourth spot and finished sixth. They are deservedly the biggest losers. Matlama’s season did not start amazingly. It was understandable, it was the beginning of the season and it was understandable that everyone in the league hadn’t found their mojo yet but the fans lacked patience.

Mothobi Molebatsi who delivered an 11th title last season resigned after being attacked by supporters and Matlama brought in Halemakale Mahlaha to steady the ship. Mahlaha oversaw a six-game winless run that saw them drop out of the title race.

Although they were never in the race, ‘Tse Putsoa’ were responsible for some of the sensational victories in the league that added spice to the title race. The 2-1 victories over both LDF and Bantu are the standouts.

Jane Thabantšo once again was Matlama’s standout performer and main source of goals this season. He finished as the league’s top scorer with 15 goals and shared the golden boot accolade this season with Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) Hlomelang Lebina.

Lioli

Lioli seem to be the losers every season. If you want to know how their season went, revert back to our write-up last season. It is the same old story with just a few edits. In fact, this season they were worse. Lioli regressed from their performance last season which was a disgrace, but somehow, they have managed put on a worse show.

For four consecutive seasons now 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. Last season, ‘Tse Nala’ finished fifth on the log with 53 points, this time around they dropped to eighth position with 42 points.

Once again, their poor performances were underlined by a lack of squad depth. They started the season with Bob Mafoso and there was hope that this season would not be like previous ones, after all they had one of the best coaches in the league. But even Mafoso could not perform miracles with a squad of unknowns who get overwhelmed by Lifofane at home.

Switbirth Kum has been the bright spark for the club and, perhaps, if all the players had his work ethic, Lioli could have finished higher on the log this season.

The chaos and unsettled management have been responsible for the downfall of the club in the past years. This season was no different with players saying the president Lebohang Thotanyana had abandoned them, an accusation Thotanyana vehemently denied.

Swallows

For three seasons in a row, Swallows had been fighting relegation and somehow surviving but this time around it wasn’t meant to be. In 2018/19 they survived on the last day beating LCS 1-0, before that they had registered two wins in a row and finished three points above relegation.

The following season Swallows looked nailed on to go down, but the Covid-19 pandemic hit football and they were saved as the season was cut short. Last season, their former player Teele Ntšonyana stepped in on a voluntary basis and saved the club.

The lucky escapes were not sustainable for the club. It was clear things needed to change but instead things went even worse with Ntšonyana leaving the club in the middle of the season and his replacements have not done any better. Now the club finds itself in the A Division.

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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