THE senior national football team, Likuena, is unlikely to be fit and ready for the resumption of the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers which are now slated to restart in November.
Unless the government permits the soccer leagues to resume soon, Likuena would most likely be rusty and unprepared when the qualifiers restart.
On Thursday, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced the 2022 AFCON qualifiers would resume in November. But the Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) had been expecting a much later date. It says the men’s senior soccer team is ill-prepared for the tournament’s resumption.
According to the new dates released by CAF on Thursday, some of the qualifiers will take place between 9 and 17 November 2020 while the remainder will be played in March next year.
LeFA secretary general Mokhosi Mohapi expressed concern that the Thabo Senong-coached Likuena, which has not been training for the last five months due to the Covid-19 outbreak, will not be ready for the qualifiers.
The government had banned all sporting and other activities in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Last month, LeFA resolved to bring the 2019/2020 league to an abrupt end and announced it would wait for the start of the new season on dates yet to be announced.
Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro announced last week that the government had relaxed most restrictions that were imposed as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.
However, Mohapi told this publication yesterday that under the current circumstances, football remained restricted. He said they would only map the way forward when they meet with the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) this week.
“Honestly, we are still not ready to start the football season but we need to advance our efforts,” Mohapi said.
“We have written to NACOSEC several times asking for a meeting and that is what I will be working on next week. We will make our proposal to start training to them, then we’ll take it from there.
“The prime minister eased some restrictions on Thursday, so we are still hopeful that as the football custodians, they will give us an ear,” he said.
Mohapi said they needed to work on ensuring that football activities return as they would not expect the national team to play without having gone through the necessary preparations. The return of league action will help put players in a fitness regime again and will ensure that national team players will be ready for national team duty.
On the AFCON log standings, Likuena are third in group L following their one-all stalemate with Sierra Leone and 4-2 loss against Nigeria last year.
They are left with four matches, two back to back matches against Benin before playing both Nigeria and Sierra Leone in March next year.
Last month, Senong expressed worries that his players had been idle for a long time while their counterparts in other countries have been active in their different leagues, especially those playing in Europe. He said his players were going to be fragile due to the five months they have been inactive.
“The negative challenge about the whole issue is that we are going to start from scratch. Although we have already established a national team, the players might find it difficult as some of them have lacked discipline both on and off the field. There is also the danger that the line-up might change.
“The stress of inactivity among players is also affecting us. They have not been and they are not playing, and that means they are not growing as professional footballers. I am worried about their fitness when they return to action,” Senong said.
The Likuena coach also bemoaned the lack of Europe based players from Lesotho as opposed to their opponents. He said the team would need the full support of LeFA and the government to prepare for the remaining AFCON qualifiers.
Senong also called on the Likuena technical team and management to come up with different strategies to get the squad on the road again.
“It’s going to be tough preparing the team for the AFCON qualifiers as they will need intensive training that will help them to bridge this gap. The last time the team trained together was in February this year and it is still unclear how long we will have to wait until we go back to the pitch.”
Senong said the whole football fraternity in Lesotho was hopeful that government and NACOSEC would relax some of the Covid-19 restrictions by the end of October to enable the football league to return, albeit under strict regulations to ensure that both the players and fans’ lives are not put at risk.
Meanwhile, Mohapi said LeFA was planning to open the licensing of clubs next month so that the teams could start the logistics and registrations for the new season.
He also suggested that the government could start by allowing only the top two leagues, namely the Econet Premier League and PostBank A-Division, to assist the national team players to prepare for the AFCON qualifiers.
“We would be happy to start soccer activities in the top two leagues because we cannot go for AFCON qualifiers with rusty players. The sooner we get a green light the better as the players can even start training in small groups,” Mohapi said.