MASERU – Lesotho’s club football will get a stern test on the international stage this afternoon when Matlama face South African champions Supersport United in a preliminary round Caf Champions League match.
Tse Putsoa are the first local team to take part in the competition since 2008 and the Maseru Glamour Boys tackle the three-time South African champions in a David versus Goliath clash at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane.
Matlama will be looking to improve on their previous performance in the competition in 2004 when they were hammered 7-0 on aggregate by another South African side Orlando Pirates at the same stage.
History overall is against Tse Putsoa; Lesotho teams have never gone beyond the first round of Africa’s most prestigious club tournament since its rebranding in 1997.
And as Tse Putsoa coach Mahao Matete pointed out Matlama as amateurs are immediately at a disadvantage playing against a professional side.
Tse Putsoa were for example unable to train earlier in the week because of the heavy rains that lashed the capital Maseru.
But Matlama can take a leaf from Makoanyane XI’s book and spring a surprise.
The Sunday Express examines the key areas that could be pivotal in today’s match.
Nkau Lerotholi versus Kermit Erasmus
Matlama captain Nkau Lerotholi has been the heart of Tse Putsoa’s defence over the past 16 months and was arguably Lesotho’s player of the season in Tse Putsoa’s march to the title last season.
Today he will be up against 20-year-old striker Kermit Erasmus who has already played for South Africa’s senior national team and is touted as a future star.
Matlama have been solid conceding one goal in their last five outings and since his arrival as coach in November Mahao Matete has stressed the importance of defensive solidity.
How Lerotholi marshals the defence will be crucial.
Matlama’s defence and goal- keeper Liteboho Mokhesi will also have to be extra sharp from set-pieces which are Supersport’s most dangerous weapon.
Matlama’s Litšepe Marabe has grown in leaps and bounds over the past two years.
There are still questions over his big match temperament, but it’s unquestionable that the Makoanyane XI starlet is the most exciting football talent in Lesotho.
Once an out-and-out left winger, Marabe has been turned into a lethal second striker and scored twice against Premier Soccer League side Bloemfontein Celtic in a friendly match earlier this month.
His combination play and guile is vital to Matlama’s offence.
The midfield battle, clash of styles
Matlama pride themselves in their traditional fondness for passing football.
How they hold on to the ball will be important this afternoon.
Matlama are expected to start with their normal three-pronged central midfield of Tšoanelo Koetle, Lebakeng Lebetsa and Pali Tšalong.
Their tactical and technical application will dictate which style of football prevails.
Matlama like to play the ball on the floor while Supersport prefer to press forward efficiently and forcefully.
Koetle’s outstanding screening in front of the defence and Tšalong’s energetic runs will be crucial.
But, more importantly, the match will come down to how Matlama deal with Supersport’s direct style, consisting of constant pressing on the ball and individual physical power, a style of play which is rarely sustained in Lesotho’s amateur football.
Matlama can look to capitalise on Supersport’s jittery form.
The hosts were shocked 1-0 in the league by Mpumalanga Black Aces on Wednesday and find themselves languishing in the bottom half of the PSL without the chance of retaining their crown.
Supersport United coach Gavin Hunt may also have inadvertently given Tse Putsoa more hope through his plan to inject some new blood into the match.
Speaking to the media last week Hunt said he would give his young goalkeepers, Sherwyn Naicker and Ronwyn Williams, half the time each to play against Matlama.
18-year-old defender Grant Kekana and striker Thulani Ngcepe, 20, are also due to start.
“I believe this is an opportunity to try out some younger players as I am rebuilding the side. This gives me the chance to see what depth we have,” Hunt said.
The move can work both ways.
It can be a motivation for the youngsters coming into the team but it is also a chink in Supersport’s armour for Matlama to exploit.
Confidence of Makoanyane XI starlets
Marabe, Koetle and Motiki Mohale were all outstanding as Lesotho’s Under-20 side qualified for the Caf African Youth Championship and they are slowly losing the fear of playing on the big stage, something which has always haunted Lesotho’s teams in the past.
The Makoanyane XI’s run in the qualifiers also included a win over South Africa and the trio should take that confidence to show off their skills on the grandest stage of their careers so far.
More experienced Lesotho internationals like captain Lerotholi, classy defender Thapelo Mokhehle and former Orlando Pirates development striker Dlomo Monapathi also add to a self-assured core.