MASERU — Lesotho football is set to receive a crushing blow this week with the news Likuena will not compete in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
The draw for the qualifiers was supposed to take place on January 30 in Angola on the eve of the 2010 Nations Cup final but was rescheduled at the 11th hour to February 21. The Sunday Express has, however, established that Lesotho has not confirmed its participation and looks set to continue its self-imposed exile from international football competition after opting out of continental club football this year.
The Lesotho Football Association is expected to hold a press conference this week to announce and explain Likuena’s absence from the draw.
Lefa president Salemane Phafane confirmed there would be a news briefing on the matter this week, but refused to give further details.
“Lefa is going to hold a press conference next week to give the details on the matter,” Phafane told the Sunday Express on Thursday.
However, it is clear Likuena will not be part of the qualifiers because the draw was meant to be held two weeks ago.
Lesotho is one of seven countries that have not registered for the tournament, alongside São Tomé and Príncipe, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Seychelles and Sudan.
One Lefa official — who spoke on condition of anonymity — told the Sunday Express on Thursday, when the draw comes around in exactly two weeks’ time, Lesotho would not be among the contesting nations.
Consequences of the pullout are unclear, but a ban from all continental competitions is possible.
The development comes in the wake of news that Lesotho reached its highest ranking in four years, after placing 149 in the world— and 40th in Africa— in the latest Fifa rankings released on February 3. But it appears Likuena will take a backward step after the side’s promising displays in last October’s Cosafa Senior Challenge where Lesotho drew 2-2 with hosts Zimbabwe and beat Mauritius 1-0.
It also a further setback for a country that is failing to meet Fifa’s Win in Africa with Africa goals, of which the fruitless 2008 Mohale Declaration is a part.
Yet the decision to withdraw from the continent’s premier soccer showpiece— whose finals will be co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon— should not come about as a complete surprise. Last November, Lefa stunned the local football fraternity by announcing there would be no local club in the 2010 Caf Champions League and Confederation Cup, due to the unavailability of the Setsoto Stadium currently undergoing extensive refurbishment.
It was the second time in a row Lesotho had failed to register a team in the Champions League after LCS were denied a spot in 2009 for the same reason.
However, the withdrawal of the national team— even by Lefa lowly standards— comes as an even greater shock because there has not been any indication Likuena’s participation was in danger.
In fact, last month, acting chief executive officer Mokhosi Mohapi stated he hoped Lesotho would hire a coach for the qualifiers.