MASERU — Makoanyane XI are on the verge of an historic qualification for the 2011 African Youth Championships and only need a draw against Kenya at Setsoto Stadium this afternoon.
Clinching a berth at the youth tournament in Libya next March will mark a remarkable turnaround for football in Lesotho.
Lesotho’s football sides have for years been reduced to also-rans if not the continent’s whipping boys.
Having steamrolled past Mozambique and South Africa in earlier qualifiers, Makoanyane XI have shown they are capable of shedding Lesotho’s underachievers tag.
Going into the decider with a 1-0 lead achieved away in Kenya last month, the work is cut out for Leslie Notši’s charges.
Any slip-up — like they did when they lost 2-1 to South Africa in their last home qualifier — will shatter the dreams of a kingdom that has not known success in international football.
Yet, if they make it, Makonyane XI will only be emulating the fine class that qualified for the 2005 African Youth Championships.
Sadly, little of that historic achievement is remembered after Lesotho failed to build on that success.
Now all eyes are on Notši and his boys to lift the spirits in the kingdom again — and hopefully form a foundation for future international success.
The affable coach is likely to field the same side that did duty in Nairobi although there is question mark over skipper Basia Makepe, who has been away because of school commitments.
Notši will also have to decide whether Mangana Maoela or Thabiso Mohapi partner Tšoanelo Koetle in the heart of midfield.
The Kenyan team is a physical, hard-running unit and they will be expected to attack as they seek to overturn the first-leg deficit.
But there is a world of opportunities beckoning for Lesotho’s players if they win.
A date in Libya among Africa’s elite football nations could see them earn moves to bigger leagues while there will also be the possibility of qualifying for the Fifa Under-20 World Cup.
The party in Libya is likely to include world youth champions Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Egypt and Ivory Coast.
All said Makoanyane XI will this afternoon need a vociferous home crowd more than any other time.
Makoanyane XI possible starting line-up
The young Likhopo goalkeeper has been in fine form in 2010 and he was one of the main reasons Makoanyane XI have a lead to defend. An ever-present between the posts, Makhooane’s communication with his back four has steadily improved.
Makepe only joined the team yesterday after spending the past two weeks writing school examinations. But the Joy stopper is likely to start the match after leading the team with aplomb all year.
Good in the air, quick and strong in the tackle Tseka has the attributes to become a defender of some repute. Converted from a defensive midfielder he has formed a robust centre-back partnership with fellow Leribe native Makepe.
The young rightback has been a solid member of the defence having played every. His main strength is his defending and tackling but he also has the engine to get into forward and whip in crosses as he showed in Lesotho’s 6-1 demolition of Mozambique.
The fact that he recently signed for South Africa Premier League outfit Platinum Stars is testimony enough to his ability. He only made his first appearance in the qualifiers in Kenya but he is expected to start again. An attacking fullback who can play in a variety of positions.
Koetle has been one of the shining lights of Lesotho’s campaign. Notši was initially criticised for playing Koetle in the heart of midfield, converting him from a right-back, but it has been a stroke genius. Koetle posses the strength, agility and cool head needed for the position.
Mohapi’s game is a simple one, to stop the opposition’s attacks and lay on the ball to the team’s more offensive minded players. He didn’t make the starting line-up in the first leg but could return the team this afternoon.
Lebata has been sensational this year. He has scored four goals and created many more dangerous openings with his pace and dribbling skills. He will be important o the break today. He scored the winner in the first leg.
Kamele has been quietest of the front players. But his work rate and unselfish play are invaluable to the team’s balance. The Joy livewire also offers a different type of threat to Marabe and Lebata with his direct and physical style.
Botswana based Ramabele has arguably been Lesotho’s talisman this year and is the team’s top scorer in the qualifiers with five goals. He scored all three goals in the victory over South Africa. He is a direct and hard working striker with a sharp eye for goal.
So far Marabe has yet to find his best form in the qualifying campaign. However he has dazzled for his club side Matlama and he scored in Lesotho’s last two friendly match wins against Botswana Under-23s and against Bloemfontein Celtic reserves.