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Glimmer in the gloom

New—look Likuena carries the hopes of a long-suffering nation

 

Teboho Molapo

MASERU – Lesotho’s national soccer team might have gone some way to dispelling talk they can’t compete with the rest of the continent on Thursday night, but the fact of the matter is they were playing South Africa’s D-team.

With the World Cup just four months away, none of the visiting players have the slightest chance of making the 2010 Bafana Bafana squad.

Lesotho’s team on the other hand was one for the future, packed with the current top performers but that elusive home victory is still missing.

But at least the promising display in the nil-all draw shows Likuena’s pool of players might be expanding.

Lesotho were without Lehlohonolo Seema – whose centre-back place may, for the first time, come under pressure with the performance of Nkau Lerotholi and Thabo Masualle – Moitheri Ntobo, Bokang Mothoana, Bushy Moletsane and Sello ‘Muso.

It was also a Lesotho team that, at certain periods, looked calm and as the game progressed, confidence clearly grew.

The game also showed caretaker coach Leslie Notši could be the man to lead Likuena on a full-time basis. Notši was the assistant under Zavisa Milosavljevic, who was dismissed in October last year for poor results, and was right-hand man to Motheo Mohapi (2006-2007), gaining invaluable knowledge of international football.

Maybe more crucially, Notši was coach of the national under-17 team that graduated into the under-20 side, which reached the 2005 African Youth Championships in Benin.

Last week’s Likuena side was one that showed a willingness to embrace young players and the introduction of flamboyant wingers Tšeliso Sejake and Litšepe Marabe— who gave South Africa’s full-backs a more than tough day at the office— was more in touch with what Lesotho football ought to be.

Local players are still lacking both tactically and physically but the high-pressure, ball-playing style of football could serve Lesotho well. It was shown at the Cosafa Senior Challenge last October when Lesotho drew 2-2 with Zimbabwe, before edging Mauritius 1-0 in Harare.

And apart from the first 15 minutes of Thursday’s game, Lesotho were the better side— calm and swift in possession.

The biggest problem as usual, is scoring goals. Since losing 2-3 to Ghana in a World Cup qualifier on June 8, 2008, Lesotho has only managed to score nine goals in 18 matches. On Thursday, Lesotho were again wasteful, Seenyane Nthejane missing a sitter midway through the second half. But Nthejane and his teammates though, showed the courage needed at international level.

“Lesotho are a strong side in my opinion, and their coach has the potential to improve this team,” South Africa coach Serame Letsoaka said afterwards, before pointing out Lesotho’s biggest weakness.

“They have speed (but) when they have you (under pressure), they don’t finish you,” Letsoaka said.

Speaking after the game, a contented Notši said he gave his charges 70 percent for their performance on the night.

Seventy percent is probably about right. Lesotho were fielding players who have barely had a kick all year.

The most encouraging aspect from Thursday night was the crowd which turned out as Lesotho braces itself for another year in international exile. The two developmental teams play again tomorrow in the last of the friendly series, in what could be Likuena’s last game of the year.

Likuena squad:

Goalkeepers: Liteboho Mokhesi (Matlama), Dyke Tšiu (Linare), Phoka Matete (Rovers)

Defenders: Thabiso Maile, Mapheelle Ngoako (both Bantu), Selborne Lekhooa, Tšepo George (both Likhopo), Nkau Lerotholi (Matlama), Thabo Masualle (Lioli)

Midfielders: Mangana Maoela (Bantu), Ralekoti Mokhahlane (LCS), Motlalepula Mofolo (Lioli), Jeremia Kemela (Joy), Tšeliso Sejake (Lerotholi), Mabuti Potloane, Napo Sehloho (both Linare), Pali Tšalong, Litšepe Marabe, Tau Qobose (all Matlama)

Forwards: Dlomo Monapathi (Matlama), Thapelo Tale (Likhopo), Seenyane Nthejane (Lioli)

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