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Likuena have mountain to climb

Leslie NotsiTeboho Molapo

MASERU — The pain of failure is often hard to quantify in words, more so when the performance deserved much more.
That is the situation that faced Likuena caretaker coach Leslie Notši and his players when they arrived back from the Cosafa Castle Challenge in Zimbabwe on Thursday afternoon.
On Wednesday Likuena beat Mauritius 1-0 — Lesotho’s first win in an international game since July last year when they beat the Comoros by the same margin in the regional competition.
However the one goal victory was not enough to secure Likuena’s progression to tomorrow’s quarterfinal stage.
After drawing 2-2 on Monday with hosts Zimbabwe, who had humbled Mauritius 3-0 in the tournament’s opening game last Saturday, Lesotho needed to beat the islanders by four goals to advance.
But it was a case of so close yet so far away for the team – Likuena’s predicament for a long time now.
Constant failure in other international championships has been compounded by the latest disappointment in Cosafa’s regional showpiece.
Last year after drawing with Namibia Likuena then beat the Comoros, their first win in the competition outside of Lesotho, but a 1-0 loss to Malawi in the final game meant they could not progress to the quarterfinals.
LDF fullback and former Likuena international Malefetsane Pheko says Likuena’s ‘glorious’ failure is still a failure.
“It is now yet another tournament in which the side have failed to progress past the first stage,” Pheko said.
“I can’t say we played well because we got knocked out in the first round which is always what happens to us,” he said.
Likuena were the only side that had a full strength team at the tournament.
But in terms of performance there has been a marked improvement building on a largely positive 2009.
Even though Lesotho has only won one of their nine international games this year losing 5-0 to an under-23 Malaysia side caretaker coach Notši can be optimistic.
In away friendly games against Swaziland and Zimbabwe earlier this year Likuena managed to hold their opponents lead and were rated by the media to have been the better team.
 “The improvement is there when you look at where Likuena are coming from,” Pheko says.
Likuena’s defence has become more solid since Serbian coach Zavisa Milosavljevic’s short tenure with players commanding regular jerseys in the team.
And Likuena captain Moitheri Ntobo was particularly outstanding in the first game against Zimbabwe.
“I thought they played very well, we had the patience and playing away from home the team did well to absorb the pressure of the Zimbabwean side and hit them on the counter attack,” Mphatlalatsane defender Tšepo Hlojeng said.
Hlojeng was part of the Likuena side that reached the Cosafa final in 2000 — arguably Lesotho’s best outing on the international stage.
“In terms of the shape they were good. Tactically we were not playing like school boys, you could see that they had a plan to get behind Zimbabwe’s defence,” Hlojeng said.
“There were gaps appearing but with the experience of players like Mpitsa (Marai) they did well and I have to give them credit for that,” he said.
One difference that is being seen from the Milosavljevic era is the liberation of Bushy Moletsane, who in the past was confined to the bench and only occasionally found himself playing on the wing, is now playing in the middle of the park where he is having a good game.
The maturity of Bokang Mothoana and the stability of Molefe Lekoekoe has helped Moletsane to settle well in the midfield.
Former Likuena midfielder and national under-15 coach Motlalepula Majoro says a major problem with the local game is that there are no strikers that can score goals on a regular basis.
“I’m not happy with the fact that we can’t score goals, and that is an issue that we as coaches should look at,” Majoro said.
“The squad that was taken was a very good one, but scoring goals remains a very serious problem for the national team,” he said.
Lesotho has only managed to score twice in a game four times in the last two years.
Another area that will need to be attended to is the position of national team coach.
No one has been shortlisted for the post yet the 2012 African Cup of Nations qualifiers begin next September.
However the general feeling among football stakeholders has been that Lesotho does not need a foreign coach.
“In my view according to where we are right now the coaches that we need are our local coaches like Leslie Notši they know the players and the style of football that we play,” Pheko said.
Majoro concurs that a local coach can produce the desired results.
 “At the moment we need a local coach who is used to the conditions in the country. Sometimes when a foreign coach arrives in the country they expect a different reality and they soon find out that it’s different when they get here,” Majoro said.
“A local coach knows our limitations, that we have no fields. They also know our players and understand the conditions here,” he said.

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