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Sliding tackle extinct in Lesotho football

Teboho Molapo

MASERU — Like the Lesothosaurus dinosaur, the properly timed sliding tackle may never be seen in these parts again.
Just like the one-metre-long bipedal plant-eater, with long legs, small arms and a slender tail that roamed Lesotho a million years ago, the sliding tackle is extinct in Lesotho.
The tackle is one of the many football aspects that have been marginalised by the deplorable state of Lesotho’s football fields.
In short, Lesotho’s players cannot perform sliding challenges because of the grounds they play on a weekly basis.
Most of the grounds do not have turf, with stones a common feature if the field is not sandy.
If anyone dares try a sliding tackle, he risks peeling off his skin.
Thus the critical defensive skill has become extinct.
This was brutally exposed, for example, in Lesotho’s game against Zimbabwe last Monday in the COSAFA Castle Challenge when Likuena, under pressure, failed to stop or at least disrupt their opponents’ attacks.
In fact, all game there were only three tackles made by Likuena players, and they were by Bokang Mothoana and Katleho Moleko — both of whose latest football experiences have been out of Lesotho.
Granted, the Zimbabwe game was played on an artificial turf but even so there was never an inclination from Likuena’s players to go to ground and execute tackles.
And in scrambling defence, like Likuena were forced into frequently against Zimbabwe, the sliding tackle is an important and effective skill.
For example, against Zimbabwe, Likuena left-back Khoto Sesinyi, commendable for the whole game, allowed the hosts’ winger Chris Samakweri to run free of him and shoot at goal without a challenge in the lead-up to Zimbabwe’s second goal.
There were other examples where Lesotho’s players could have prevented their opponents from progressing into dangerous areas.
While there is no arguing the sliding tackle is a desperate measure, it is on occasion the ultimate answer when no solutions are left to win the ball back.
For some international players the accurate slide is even a trademark.
Indeed on the continental and international level the sliding tackle is a vital part of any defender’s tool box.
But it’s not just defenders who need to be able to tackle — midfielders and even forwards also need to have at least a willingness to perform the skill.
Teams that can tackle well can take much of the initiative away from the opposition, denying them space and putting them under pressure.
That is what Lesotho at times fails to do in international games.
It is a problem with Lesotho football in general because tackling, like all football’s fundamentals, requires timing and technique and therefore takes plenty of practice to get right.
However players have become mentally conditioned not to go down because of the grazing fields they play on.
Indeed there is no way anyone in their right mind will slide at Pitso Ground.
Sadly this instead gives rise to dangerous lunges.
It is a problem that shoddy fields cause. It’s not just sliding that’s affected though.
Lesotho’s goalkeepers, for example, are uncomfortable with hitting the ground and making dives.
Needless to say, Likuena’s future is directly tied to the quality of the pitches in the country.

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