MASERU — When LCS and LDF locked horns in the past, it would be a battle for supremacy — a fight that determines which state-sponsored team are the kings of Lesotho football.
But this afternoon, when these two giants of local football meet in a Vodacom Premier League tie, the picture will be a bit different.
Instead of the top-of-the-table clash it has been in recent years — LCS and LDF have finished in the league’s top three in each of the last three seasons — today, the two teams may just be battling to remain in this season’s title race.
As 2009 rounds-off, a loss for either side could see them slip-off in the race to be Lesotho’s kings come next May.
Consecutive league winners in 2006/07 and 2007/08, LCS have already lost three matches this season — they lost five times last season — and have struggled to find anything like championship form.
And although LDF are second on the log — joint on 21 points with leaders Lioli — the army side may be a loss away from a slide of their own.
Furthermore LDF, who are without a title since 2004 — their longest drought since they first won the championship in 1987 — were completely outplayed by Lioli in a 0-2 loss two weeks ago and questions remain over their big-match temperament.
It is against such background that this afternoon’s clash at the Central Prisons assumes even more importance.
“What we want to do is beat Masheshena; our aim this weekend is to get all six points,” LDF coach, Kolisang Seutloali said on Friday.
But LDF could come unstuck against a wounded Masheshena side out to redeem themselves following last week’s 0-4 loss to Bantu in Mafeteng.
“We have fixed our problems and we are particularly focused on winning this game against LDF,” LCS caretaker coach, Liphapang Motanya said.
And Masheshena will be boosted by the return of the experienced centre-back pairing of Mpitsa Marai and Moitheri Ntobo, who have both been out with injury since the side’s Vodacom Soccer Spectacular final loss to Matlama last month.
The Likuena internationals have missed three league matches, including that 4-0 mauling.
Motanya said he was expecting them to play in today’s crunch encounter.
“They have both been training this week,” Motanya said on Friday. “You could see in the last match, that their absence made a big difference, especially Ntobo. It will give us a lift that they will be back.”
Clashes between the two sides, historically, have been close although LDF thumped LCS 3-0 in a league tie in May — the biggest score-line in matches between the two sides — a fact that is still on Motanya’s mind.
“We still have that result in mind and we have to make sure that it never happens again,” Motanya said. “It is going to be a close game. LDF are going to come out in full force.”
But should LCS lose, it could dent their title-challenge. Yet Motanya disagrees.
“Our chances of winning the league championship are still good; we can’t say that we would be out of the race,” Motanya said.
“It is a very important game; it will show whether our team is good enough to challenge for the title,” LDF veteran player and assistant coach Malefetsane Pheko, said on Friday.
Pheko, a stalwart of many a close LDF-LCS showdown, is expecting nothing different today.
“We can’t talk about the Bantu match. It won’t have any bearing on this game. And when LCS are beaten like that, they are even more dangerous, because they will be out to try and fix things and try even harder,” he said.
“I’m expecting a tough game. LCS are a good side and I can’t pick out any players. They are a very good attacking team, so you have to close them down ? that is how we can beat Masheshena”.
Elsewhere today, Lioli make the trip to St Monicas to face Mphatlalatsane, hoping for a repeat of last season’s 2-0 win in a corresponding fixture while Swallows will look to keep up their recent steady form when they host Lerotholi in Mazenod.
Also this afternoon, the floundering Nyenye Rovers are at home against Mohale’s Hoek’s Majantja in Maputsoe, while in Roma, Rovers host their second relegation scrap in a week after beating Nyenye 2-1 last Sunday, when they entertain Butha-Buthe Roses.
Today’s fixtures: Nyenye Rovers vs Majantja (Maputsoe); LCS vs LDF (Central Prisons); Joy vs Matlama (Sebothoane); Mphatlalatsane vs Lioli (St Monicas); Rovers vs Butha-Buthe Roses (Roma); Linare vs Likhopo (Hlotse); Swallows vs Lerotholi Polytechnic (Mazenod); LMPS vs Bantu (Old Europa).