Battle of the fittest     

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Mikia Kalati

Fans are waiting with great anticipation for this weekend’s independence tournament which brings together four of the biggest football teams in the Mountain Kingdom.

There is no doubt the annual competition has become one of the most exciting sporting events in the country over recent years.

This year, the two-day competition sees Bantu taking on LCS in Saturday’s first semifinal set for Setsoto Stadium, while Lioli and Matlama renew their rivalry later in the day at the same venue. The final and third-place play-off take place the following day also at Setsoto and one could not have asked for better excitement than what this independence or top-four competition is offering.

The Lioli/Matlama tie could be dubbed a final before the final as these are two of the most successful teams in the country, which have enjoyed great rivalry over the seasons.

What makes the match even more appetising is the fact that Matlama lost 11-12 on penalties to Lioli in the final of last year’s edition of the annual tournament, so it goes without saying that Tse Putsoa would be out to revenge that painful defeat.

Matlama are under a new coach this time around following their appointment of former Lioli coach, Moses Maliehe, to the hot seat at the beginning of this season. Maliehe was born in Berea, Lioli’s home district, and played for both Matlama and Tse Nala, so it would be interesting to see how he conducts himself in this match as both teams mean so much to him.

Again, this should be Maliehe’s last match in charge of Matlama following his appointment as national team (Likuena) coach last month.

Maliehe has since brought massive improvement to Tse Putsoa, and I’m sure he would want to make history by leading the Sea Point outfit to the independence title as he prepares for a new challenge with Likuena.

On the other hand, Lioli go into this tournament with their tails between their legs after a humbling 1-3 loss to Bantu in Sunday’s premier league match at Setsoto Stadium.

The heavy defeat came as a surprise to many as Tse Nala were unbeaten going into the match, while Bantu had been struggling and also sacked their coach three weeks before the blood-and-thunder clash.

But at the same time, one could say Lioli were suffering from fatigue as eight of their players had been part of a busy Likuena schedule.

Yet one thing is for sure—the upcoming tournament is going to be a platform for Lioli to show that they are still the best team in the land.

Bantu, on the other hand, will be hoping to prove they are back at their best after dominating the independence tournament over the last four years.

The other team which is going to be under the microscope this weekend is LCS.

Masheshena have lacked consistency under their former player, Mpitsa Marai, who took over as head-coach at the start of the current season.

But at the same time, four victories in seven matches is not bad for a man in his first assignment as head-coach of a premier league side.

LCS have also reinforced their side with a few quality players such as Makara Ntaitsane and Motiki Mohale, who joined the team at the start of this campaign from Likhopo and Lerotholi Polytechnic, respectively, so they will not be pushovers this weekend.

The Likuena duo are part of a very experienced Masheshena side that can beat any team on their day.

So all in all, it’s going to be an exciting weekend of football as the giants of the domestic game battle it out for the M110 000 first prize.

On a different note, I would like to congratulate Likhopo who are now top of the Vodacom Premier League and the only team still unbeaten this term.

I really never expected them to be so good this season and my hat goes off to new coach, Shalane Lehohla, management and the players, especially the revived Lehlomela Ramabele, who leads the premiership scoring charts with eight goals.

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