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Likuena’s AFCON journey ends

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Leemisa Thuseho

LESOTHO is out of contention for a place at the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament to be held in Cameroon.

Affectionately known as Likuena, the senior men’s soccer team bowed out after being held to a goalless draw by visiting Sierra Leone in a qualifying match at Setsoto Stadium yesterday.

The draw means Likuena can no longer qualify for a maiden AFCON appearance even if they were to pull off a miracle and beat Nigeria in Abuja their final match this week.

Yesterday’s result leaves Lesotho with three points from five games and at the bottom of Group L. Sierra Leone still have chance of qualifying provided they beat Benin who lost 0-1 to Nigeria yesterday.

Lesotho had managed a draw when it visited Sierra Leone in November 2019.

Although both teams needed a win yesterday to keep their hopes of qualifying alive, the game started on a slow tempo and no real goal-mouth action was created in the first 25 minutes.

Lesotho’s Motebang Sera had the first real chance in the 35th minute with a header but it flew over the crossbar.

In the second half, Thabo Senong introduced Libya based striker Nkoto Masoabi for Tumelo Ngatane who was on his national team debut.

As the game progressed rather slowly, Hlompho Kalake forced a save off Sierra Leone goalkeeper- Mohamed Kamara.

A few minutes later, Senong ignited his side’s attacking force by bringing in Tumelo Khutlang and Litšepe Marabe for Sera and Neo Mokhachance respectively. Lehlohonolo Fothoane also made way for Tšepo Toloane.

Sierra Leone were close to breaking the deadlock in the 62nd minute but Likuena were saved by the woodwork after Sierra Leon’s attacking midfielder, who is also named Mohamed Kamara just like his goalkeeper, unleashed a screamer from a distance.

The visitors made their first substitute in the 74th minute when Prince Barrie was introduced for Rodney Strasser. Likuena responded by bringing in Thabo Lesaoana for Tau Masiu.

In the dying minutes, Lesotho’s goalkeeper Sekhoane Moerane was forced to action parrying away Yeami Dunia’s shot for a corner kick.

Lesotho’s last match against Nigeria on Wednesday will therefore, now be a dead rubber. Nigeria beat Lesotho 4-2 in the first leg at Setsoto Stadium in November 2019.

Senong said while he was disappointed that they failed to win, he was drawing comfort from the knowledge that “a draw is better than a loss”.

He said he was ready to shoulder the blame for the poor result and would not blame the players.

“Our players tried hard to perform,” Senong said adding: “The intention was not to concede but to score”.

“However, we did not do well in the final third. We tried an attacking approach in the first half but in the second half we were forced to bring in fresh legs as we maintained our attack but unfortunately, we failed to score. However, I will not blame the players, they did everything they could.

“I am proud of the performance but not the results. As the coach, I take the blame because my intention was to win and that is my slight disappointment because we failed to win.”

In the upcoming tie against Nigeria, Senong said his side would fight for a win to protect the country’s image.

“It is a big game against a big side and that will be a chance for our players to play and enjoy the game but with an intention to win. Winning that game will improve our image as a country and can help market players,” Senong said.

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