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Likuena back with a bang

Teboho Molapo

Lesotho . . . . . . .(0) 1
Burundi . . . . . . (0) 0

MASERU — Lesotho are halfway qualifying for the 2014 Fifa World Cup group stage after a momentous 1-0 win over Burundi at the Setsoto Stadium on Friday night.
It was Lesotho’s first competitive win since a 3-1 victory over Niger in March 2007, and although the job is only half done, the outpouring of relief and joy at the referee’s final whistle showed just what the result meant.
In the interim it keeps Lesotho’s hopes alive but depending on Wednesday’s outcome in Bujumbura in the return fixture it could signal the start of something special.
Setsoto is becoming a fortress by the way. Amajita, Mozambique, SuperSport United and Kenya have all felt pain at the national stadium over the past 18 months.
A performance of passion and determination by Likuena meant Burundi was the latest on the list.
A brief downpour just before kickoff not only chased away fans but made playing conditions tricky. By the time Moitheri Ntobo led out Likuena the field was soaked.
However, the nervous opening exchanges meant neither keeper was tested.
The match was tight and tense. A yellow card for Burundi captain Valery Nahayo within the first 15 minutes was quickly followed by one for Bokang Mothoana as both sides struggled for supremacy.
The hosts though were guilty of being careless early and allowed Burundi to dictate the flow of the game.
The rashness of Nahayo was there for all to see but without the ball the profit of pressuring him could not happen.
When Mohau Kuenane collided with Laudit Mavugo on 30 minutes the lights went off causing a sizeable break in play.
After the restart Mothoana hit the crossbar with a fantastic effort and it was the start of the turning of the tide.
In the second half Burundi had a great opening chance when Dugary Ndabashinze waltzed into the box but his shot was saved by the excellent Mohau Kuenane.
But from there the game’s progression was almost perfect.
It was a perfect storm for Leslie Notši and whatever he said during the break worked.
The crucial change in the second half was that Lesotho dominated the midfield.
Notši’s side by-passed Burundi’s third quarter a lot more, pretty primitive tactics, but it worked.
It made pressure to build on Burundi as they had to build out from further back, something which is seemingly their style, to pass it around.
Motlalepula Mofolo was outstanding in this period. He became a third centre-back on the break and allowed fullbacks Thabo Masualle and Mothoana to be more adventurous, though not gung-ho, press higher up.
It pressed the visitors back.
It almost paid dividends nine minutes into the second half. Moleko’s shot from a goalmouth scramble was saved at point-blank range by the outstanding Saidi Nduwimana.
The pace of Thapelo Tale, brought on as an enforced changed due to Thulo Ranchobe’s injury, further swung the game in Lesotho’s favour.
Tale ran the channels, and although it didn’t seem to be very cohesive between him and Ramabele, it worked.
It created pressure once again. Burundi were no longer able to dictate in advanced areas, and it negated the threat of Ndabashinze who looked comfortable and dangerous being close to his midfield turning, passing and moving. Another one of Lesotho quick transitions and good interplay between Tale and Bushy Moletsane set-up Ramabele but Nduwimana tipped the ball with the whole stadium expecting the net to ripple.
The goal that Lesotho had been threatening finally came in the 76th minute after a cross field pass by Mothoana found the feet of Ramabele. After a great first touch he slotted to send Setsoto into frenzy.
It should have happened again two minutes later when Tale evaded the defence from another long punt but he blasted over the bar. Tale was at it again and he could have earned a penalty but he went down too easily under Nahayo’s challenge.
Lesotho’s improving defence kept another clean sheet.
“But with a slender one goal lead the return will not be easy. We should take the opportunities that we get,” Notši said.
“We wanted to emphasise the importance of scoring,” Notši said. “The mistakes our players were making were those of someone who is angry. The Burundi players tried to intimidate them but at halftime we told them to calm down. We have three years without playing so we should be patient.”
Notši added: “In football there is always pressure. But I’m glad we have something in the bag. We are aware that it’s not going to be easy. I’m satisfied.”
Burundi coach Adel Amrouche could not hide his disappointment but he said they would do better.
“Congratulations to Lesotho for the win. We will rest, look at the game and talk to the players. This is football, today Lesotho won and congratulations to them,” Amrouche said.
It will be a tough match in Bujumbura.
But Lesotho is back on the stage with a win.

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