MASERU — History beckons for Lesotho’s Under 20 side when they take on their South African counterparts in a Confederation of African Football (CAF) Under 20 Championship match at Setsoto Stadium in Maseru this afternoon.
Fresh from a 2-0 first leg win over their more illustrious opponents this afternoon’s tie could be the biggest on the local front since Lesotho humbled Zimbabwe in a Cosafa tie in 2000.
Although it would be dangerous to over-hype it, today’s match could provide the clearest signal for what the future holds for Lesotho’s football.
The match is significant on two fronts.
First and simply it is a chance for Lesotho to progress to the next round before the continental showpiece in Libya next March.
Second, a win today could provide much-needed boost to local football that has been in the shadows of their more illustrious opponents.
Yet today’s contest is only an Under 20 match.
But for a nation sinfully starved of success, it will do.
There is no doubt that Lesotho needs a lift.
Victory today could go some way in lifting the gloom that has so often enveloped the national game.
It could also inspire those in charge of the game here to develop the game which still lags behind most countries in the southern Africa region.
Depressing facts about Lesotho’s football indeed are as readily available as a hankie in a flu treatment ward.
Lesotho’s senior team Likuena, for example, does not exist.
When it did exist its last victory in a competitive international match was in March 2007 against little Niger.
Lesotho has never qualified for a major senior tournament.
The premier league in Lesotho remains in an appalling state.
League matches are played on glorified grazing fields while its stars play for nothing.
Lesotho’s main pride on the international scene over the past decade has been reaching the Cosafa Cup final in 2000 and the Caf Under-20 Championship in 2005.
But because of a poor administration and scant interest from the government nothing has been done to build on those small but encouraging developments.
To say Lesotho is an international unknown would be an understatement.
Lesotho is ranked 156th by Fifa.
It is against this backdrop that Leslie Notši and his 11 warriors will walk out on the hallowed turf that is Setsoto Stadium today.
Leading 2-0 after a superb first leg victory two weeks ago the Makoanyane XI have a wonderful chance to bury their opponents and prolong the positive air they have breathed into Lesotho.
The Makoanyane XI need just to avoid defeat to progress while a loss by one goal, inadvisable as it is, would also suffice for the young guns.
The side has spoken a good game all week with the only uncertainty being over the fitness of find-of-the-year Tsebang Lebata and goalkeeper Kananelo Makhooane.
Both nonetheless are likely to face a late fitness test.
Notši is expected to stick with the same line-up that brought him that first leg triumph.
It is the same line-up that brought the 6-1 win over Mozambique in April.
Notši faced criticism for playing Tšoanelo Koetle in central midfield when he plays at right back for his club side Matlama.
But Koetle has grown into his role providing a shield for the defence alongside Thabiso Mohapi.
A solid back of Salebone Lekhooa, Motiki Mohale, Kopano Tseka and captain Basia Makepa has given Lesotho the platform for their explosive counter-attacking style led by Lebata, Litšepe Marabe and Lehlomela Ramabele.
Now this group of players that has grown in stature together over the past eight months has its biggest test.
Lesotho has lacked national pride with club allegiances being preferred over the national team.
But today is a huge occasion.
It is a chance to upstage our glamorous neighbours and mark Lesotho’s arrival on the international scene.
The Lesotho Football Association’s public relations officer Baba Malephane on Friday said they expected between 8 000 and 10 000 supporters inside the 13 900 stadium.
The stadium can still not be filled because of continuing renovations.
Nonetheless this could be the biggest crowd at an international match in several years — the first hopefully of many super Sundays for Lesotho football.