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Lesotho miss Afcon

Teboho Molapo

 MASERU — Around Africa this weekend national teams are kicking off their qualification campaigns for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) seeking to qualify for the continental showpiece to be held for the first time in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

For some countries, such as South Africa and Nigeria, the qualifiers represent an opportunity for a new beginning after turbulent times.

For others like Ghana and Zambia it is a chance to continue an upward curve while for Mauritius this weekend is a chance to see African megastar Samuel Eto’o when Cameroon pay a visit.

Swaziland also have a crowd-pulling tie against 2010 World Cup quarterfinalists Ghana this weekend while Rwanda, Burundi and Benin have the unenviable but exciting prospect of being in the same group as Didier Drogba’s Ivory Coast for this adventure due to end next October.

Only eight of the Confederation of African Football (Caf)’s 52 member countries will not be part of the qualifying series — and one of them is Lesotho.

Eritrea, Mauritania, Sao Tome e Principe, Seychelles, Central African Republic, Somalia and Djibouti who have problems varying from famine to military coups are the other nations to miss out.

Lesotho joined this exclusive club in February when the Lesotho Football Association (Lefa) disbanded Likuena for two years deciding not to register the senior side in the 2012 qualifiers.

The main reason was financial, that Lefa didn’t have enough money.

The secondary explanation was Lefa would use the time to build a stronger Likuena for the future.

The core of that plan the under-20 side is one tie away from qualifying for the Caf Under-20 Championship next year.

Nevertheless Lesotho is still going to lose out on the undeniable benefits of a qualifying campaign.

An estimated 7 000 fans turned up to cheer the Makoanyane XI against South Africa in a Caf Under-20 Championship qualifier at the Setsoto Stadium last month.

But instead of looking forward to a few more exciting and money-spinning outings Lesotho’s action-starved fans will not see their senior team play anytime soon.

Lesotho’s absence from the 2012 Afcon qualifiers in fact poses questions on several fronts.

For example, when will this under-20 side that is being groomed actually play as Likuena?

Since the end of 2010 Afcon/World Cup qualifying campaign in October 2008 Lesotho has played just ten times.

This includes two international outings against Botswana that can only be described as practice matches, two matches in Swaziland and two appearances at the Cosafa Senior Challenge last October.

In July a Lesotho development team travelled to Malawi and when 2012 comes around it will have been four years without a competitive match for Lesotho.

As it is Lesotho has a problem of attracting international opponents because of its performances — Lesotho has lost 17 of its last 33 outings — and a lowly world ranking of 155th.

Last year Malawi’s coach Kinnah Phiri refused to play against Likuena because he said they were not good enough.

With no Likuena it is hard to see national teams playing against a development team, unless they are duped like Botswana was, posing problems for Lesotho’s development plans.

This year Lesotho’s only action will be the Cosafa Challenge in Angola in November where a development team will again be sent.

More worryingly though is that Lefa still hasn’t said when Likuena will return to any type of action.

It remains unclear what formula Caf will use for the 2013 Afcon qualifiers and whether that will directly influence the 2014 World Cup procedure.

 If it happens, as has been mooted, that the current qualifiers will be used to determine the 2013 Afcon then Lesotho could find itself without a competitive game for longer period than previously thought.

Lesotho will fall further behind in the pecking order and the under-20 side will be lost.

Things already look gloomy. Lesotho only has four players playing outside the country, which is the least amongst the region’s countries, while the local premier league remains the only out-and-out amateur top-flight in the Cosafa region.

An African football pundit recently referred to a formula he called “soccernomics” saying “a national team’s success or failure can be directly linked to how well their respective country compares to their opposition in the following three areas: team experience, gross domestic product per capita, and population”.

In that spectrum the future looks bleak for Lesotho.

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