MASERU — The under-20 team’s 2-0 win against South Africa last Saturday in Gauteng provided given a glimmer of hope for Lesotho.
The win in a Caf Under-20 Championship first round qualifier should all but seal Lesotho’s progress to the final qualifying round where Kenya most likely awaits.
Although it is sensible to not get carried away, Makoanyane XI’s victory shows progress and could possibly point to the fact that the Lesotho Football Association’s (Lefa) development schemes are starting to bear fruit.
In February Lefa suspended the senior football team — Likuena — from international football for two years saying Makoanyane XI would form the heart of its development programme and eventually a stronger Likuena.
There are still deficiencies in this plan though.
For instance there is still no clear roadmap for the next three years for Lesotho’s national teams.
It also remains unclear when Likuena will return to international football. Nevertheless Saturday’s triumph by Leslie Notši’s charges — a source of embarrassment to South Africa — could be viewed an indication of steady improvement over the past two years.
The improvement had been brought about by simple principles that ironically Lefa has never been known for — patience and preparation. In 2008, at the Cosafa Under-20 Championship in December, Lesotho finished bottom of their group after an embarrassingly inept display, losing 4-0 to South Africa, 3-1 to Seychelles and 2-1 to Zambia. The calamity that befell the team provided lesson number one for Lefa: teams must be prepared early.
So it was not surprising that by the time the competition kicked off Lefa had had six months worth of preparation.
There was a marked improvement by the Makoanyane XI even though they lost 3-1 to Zimbabwe and 4-2 Botswana.
The improvement continued at the Human Rights Four Nations tournament in April where Lesotho came third. More work has been put in this year to improve the young team.
A number of friendlies seemed to have boasted the team’s confidence and turned it into a cohesive force.
Notši and his assistant Moses Maliehe, who have been in charge since November last year, have been allowed plenty of opportunity to prove their philosophies.
Before the win over South Africa, Makoanyane XI held a six-week training camp — something virtually unprecedented even for Likuena.
In the wider scheme of things, the win exemplifies a small improvement in local football which urgently needs rebuilding.
The Lesotho Premier League looks like an improved product and Vodacom Lesotho’s sponsorship of the top-flight in particular has led to a drastic improvement in areas that matter, competition and spectators.
Unlike most countries, Lesotho is lucky to have the bulk of its under-20 side’s players commanding first team positions in their Premier League’s teams.
That gives the boys much needed game-time.
The key now is to have these players playing on quality pitches — similar to those they will encounter on international stages.
A better managed league is crucial as well.
It is also important to find a way to get more local players to play abroad.
It’s not by luck that Lehlomela Ramabele who plays with BDF XI in Botswana was the scorer of both goals in the game against South Africa.
Our players are still lacking tactically and physically but the high pressure ball-playing style of football Notši has introduced has served Lesotho well.
An example was during the Cosafa Senior Challenge last October where Lesotho acquitted itself well against Zimbabwe and Mauritius. This year the Makoanyane XI have achieved Lesotho’s best ever result beating Mozambique 6-1 while the victory over South Africa is a first at such a competitive level.
Lefa has frequently been accused of not having a plan but they might be sitting on a goldmine.
Considering the players of genuine quality such Lehlohonolo Seema, Bokang Mothoana, Bushy Moletsane along with a younger core of players such as Nkau Lerotholi, Tšeliso Sejake and Dlhomo Monapathi the ingredients are there for a strong Likuena squad.
The task for Lefa is to find a way to incorporate this talent into a formidable side.
It is worth remembering Likuena have not won an international match since a 3-1 Afcon qualifier win over Niger in March 2007. Overall, they have won just three times in 23 matches since January 2008.
The win over South Africa will mean nothing if Lesotho fail in the crucial return leg at Setsoto Stadium next Sunday. We have been refusing to learn from our history for a long time.
Now is the time to show that all the past experiences — both victories and failures — have made us better as a players and administrators.