MASERU — It was a sweet defeat.
Lesotho’s Under-20 national side suffered a 1-2 defeat against South Africa in a CAF Under-20 Championship tie on Sunday at Setsoto Stadium.
But despite the defeat the Makoanyane XI scrapped through to the next round against Libya on a 3-2 aggregate score-line.
On a cool Sunday afternoon, the collective nervousness inside Setsoto had almost contrived to kill the hopes of a nation starved of success on the football pitch.
It was a flat, insipid and uninspiring performance from the Under-20 side.
Apart from a noisy section of boisterous supporters on the western stand of the stadium, silence was the order of the day in the second half.
Leading 2-1, thanks to cheap goals either side of half-time, South Africa had chances to get the goal which would have sent them through.
However, thanks to some poor finishing from the visitors, last-ditch defending and luck, Lesotho won to scrape through to the next round.
Leslie Notši’s team showed itself to be one that does not play a passing game.
It is a team that gets the job done based on simple efficiency.
But still after their counterattack style worked in Gauteng’s first leg it must be said Notši’s cautious approach almost cost the team dearly.
Leading 2-0 from the first leg Notši gave away any initiative Lesotho had by selecting an overly defensive team.
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With a line-up that already had two holding midfielders, in Tšoanelo Koetle and Thabiso Mohapi, Notši then instructed his side to play too deep.
So despite a lively start and scoring early in the 22nd minute to take a 3-0 aggregate lead, Lesotho grew into a shell of anxiety in the second half.
South Africa, who had been shocked by Lehlomela Ramabele’s early goal and the Makoanyane XI’s physical pressing game, then began to dictate play.
And with football being the game of momentum it was South Africa who pushed Lesotho into making silly mistakes.
Again Notši should be asked why he persisted with two limited defensive midfielders.
Apart from the first 10 minutes the Makoanyane XI were never able, in any way, to keep possession of the ball.
It was noticeable that when technical midfielder Mosiuoa Boseka was introduced, midway through the second half, a measure of pressure was relieved and Lesotho were able to foray into the opponents’ half.
Lesotho’s poor display mirrored the same game that the team played against Mozambique in April.
Makoanyane XI were never able to string consistent passes despite hammering Mozambique 6-1.
But Notši will probably point out to Sunday’s overall result which is Lesotho’s most significant international achievement since qualification for the 2005 Caf Under-20 Championships.
Notši has also often pointed out the need for results over putting on a show.
He can also speak of the resources he has at his disposal.
It is in reality wishful thinking to expect a fluid game from Lesotho’s national sides when this is rarely seen at league level, thanks to the facilities players contend with.
Indeed Notši can be commended for moulding a team of warriors, a side that seems to thrive on determination and teamwork.
A shining example of this approach was Ramabele who led the Makoanyane XI with his tireless and selfless work up-front.
Over the two legs Ramabele has shown himself as key to Lesotho’s dreams.
He scored three times over the two legs.
Where to from now?
As usual there are lessons to learn.
The first is in connection with the severe crowd congestion seen outside Setsoto Stadium.
The police and stewards were as usual embarrassingly ill-prepared to deal with the crowds.
Simply put, the organisation outside the ground was a mess and why only one entrance to the stadium was used, only the head honchos at the Lesotho Football Association will know.
Supporters however also have to arrive on time.
Basotho love being late and Setsoto Stadium only began filling up midway through the first half.
Needless to say this causes problems of safety and security.
That said, the conclusion for the Makoanyane XI is clear — keep working hard to achieve success on the international scene.
Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.