MASERU — It is in all senses a notable achievement.
Lesotho is through to the 2014 Fifa World Cup group stages where they will meet African giants Ghana, Zambia and Sudan.
The success is thanks to a brave display by Likuena against a higher-ranked Burundi.
The victory has finally put smiles on the faces of fans after plenty of lean years.
But the victory did not come on a silver platter.
It was thanks to a gallant and well-oiled Likuena who edged Burundi 1-0 at Setsoto Stadium last Friday and a two all draw in Burundi on Tuesday for Lesotho to keep its hopes alive.
For now it looks like there is no stopping.
The win is also a triumph for Lesotho coach Leslie Notši who has received some unwarranted criticism.
Notši has performed another feat following on from leading the Makoanyane XI to the Caf Youth Championships earlier this year.
The players too have done a magnificent job and their win ranks as one of Lesotho’s top achievements since the Likuena side, captained by Tšepo Hlojeng, got so close in the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers — beating Zimbabwe and drawing with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghana.
Meanwhile, the last time Lesotho was in a similar two-legged World Cup qualifying situation, Likuena lost 4-1 to Botswana in 2003.
But still, there is no time for gloating.
Now is the time to look ahead and take the positives forward.
One of the noticeable features of Likuena’s success has been the side’s preparations and professionalism, as the Lesotho Football Association’s (Lefa) spokesman Mikia Kalati says.
Likuena enjoyed an almost three-month camp and these are positives that should be carried on.
“Our team left before Burundi to go to Bujumbura and acclimatise to the conditions, they were well prepared,” Kalati said.
Conversely though it shows Lesotho’s local league still has to improve.
The reason why Likuena players have spent so much time at the Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena, away from their clubs, is because of the amateur day-to-day structures which players would be subjected to with their teams.
This is one main factor that pulls Lesotho football back.
The status of local football means the players in this Likuena team are unlikely to be challenged daily to progress to greater levels — unless of course they move abroad.
In order to get the best of what is turning out into a golden generation of talent, things have to improve at club level.
As Kalati points out, Likuena’s goal-scorers in the two games were foreign-based players, Lehlomela Ramabele, Bokang Mothoana and Thapelo Tale.
“We still have room to improve. In these games if you look, it’s our foreign-based players who got our goals,” Kalati notes.
“Facilities are still a big challenge. But we are working to improve. There has been a facility approved by Fifa in Maputsoe that will make a difference.”
Botswana is an example of what can be done at local level, and how it can impact positively.
Fortunately Likuena, as the pinnacle for all players, has provided some impetus.
“When you look back there was ill-discipline at club level. Now there is motivation and competition,” Kalati says.
“There is Sello (’Muso) and others who are not in the squad. There are the Under-20 players as well.
On the field Notši has found some solutions.
Mohau Kuenane looks to have made the goalkeeper jersey his own, solving a problem that has dogged Likuena since the departure of Tšeliso Thite.
But encouragingly there are other keepers, Phoka Matete, Dyke Tšiu and Kananelo Makhooane who are knocking on the door.
The defence, meanwhile, looks stronger than it has been in a while.
Captain Moitheri Ntobo and Nkau Lerotholi were excellent against Burundi, with Mothoana and Thabo Masualle manning the fullback spots with aplomb.
And from midfield going forward there is an abundance of talent.
Special attackers such as Lekhanya Lekhanya, Tšeliso Sejake, Litšepe Marabe, Mabuti Potloane, Tsebang Lebata and Montoeli Sonopo didn’t make the side.
Likuena’s next game is against Sao Tome e Principe in January, a two-legged 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
Likuena’s continued success will give Lesotho something to build on.
Sponsors such as Vodacom Lesotho who have taken local football to the next level may continue to plough support into the game.
But still more needs to be and can be done, especially now with the tax rebate law.
We have to improve facilities, introduce more rewards for players and attract supporters. This will make the game stronger and it’s not that difficult.
Likuena’s win over Burundi is a great achievement and it shows Lesotho is on the rise.
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