Interim national team coach, Seephephe Matete, has admitted he is now feeling the heat following his charges’ 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 1-2 loss to Ethiopia away from home on Sunday.
Lesotho went into the Group J qualifier in the wake of a forgettable COSAFA tournament, in which they lost two of their three Group B matches, thereby crashing out of the regional competition in the first round.
The Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) had tasked Matete with at least reaching the semis of the regional showcase held in Rustenburg, South Africa, as well as doing well in the African Nations Championship (CHAN) whose first round draw pitted Likuena against Botswana.
The first of the two-legged CHAN fixtures takes place at Setsoto Stadium on Sunday with the return match scheduled for 4 July in Gaborone, and Matete is fully aware of the importance of the ties.
“We were unlucky to lose against Ethiopia at the weekend, because of injury to one of our key players, but I know it will be a totally different ball-game altogether when we meet Botswana. For us, there will be no room for any other result than a win when we face Botswana,” Matete told the Lesotho Times.
“We have to be very offensive because we must go all out to restore our lost pride.”
Matete says losing a match is always disappointing, adding he knows coaching is all about producing results hence the pressure he now finds himself under. Since taking over the Likuena coaching role early last year, Matete’s team has only won three of the 19 matches they have played and the veteran coach now faces his ultimate test versus the Zebras as the result could decide his fate should LeFA stick to their promise.
“It’s a well-known fact that the national team, or football in general, is about results, but at the same time, patience is needed among all stakeholders for long-term success,” said Matete.
“We played well in Ethiopia and showed a lot of improvement from what happened in the COSAFA tournament. We shocked the hosts by scoring first in the first half, but they managed to destroy our game-plan when they kicked our outstanding player, Mabuti Potloane, out of the game.
“We did very well in the first half, but the injury to Mabuti really affected our game,” he said.
Matete said the injury to Potloane “is very serious” and the Matlama playmaker would miss Sunday’s tie, while Lokhopo striker Thapelo Tale and Lioli midfielder Bushy Moletsane also had knocks.
According to Matete, the team now needed to focus on the do-or-die matches against Botswana.
“There is no doubt that we are desperate to beat Botswana and must be prepared for two tough matches. The fact that we will be playing at home means we have to win at all costs because if we don’t, the fans will turn against us, putting more pressure on the players.”
Left-back Jerry Kamele also told the Lesotho Times that Likuena were unlucky to lose in Ethiopia and would have to win against Botswana to regain the supporters’ trust.
“We worked hard and dominated the game in the first half against Ethiopia but were unlucky to lose the match in the final minutes,” Kamele said.
“However, we have put that disappointment behind us and the focus now is on beating Botswana and making the fans happy once again after a long time of disappointment.
“It is not good at all that we have not been doing well of late as a team, but we have learned a lot over the past few weeks and should use that experience to get positive results against Botswana.”
Goalkeepers: Mohau Kuenane (Lioli), Kananelo Makhooane (Likhopo).
Defenders: Nkau Lerotholi (Matlama), Thapelo Mokhehle (Bantu), Jerry Kamela (Lioli), Thabiso Mohapi (Bantu), Bokang Mothoana (Likhopo), Motiki Mohale (Lerotholi Polytechnic).
Midfielders: Tšoanelo Koetle, Motlalepula Mofolo, Teboho Lekhooa, Bushy Moletsane (all Lioli), Hlompho Kalake (Bantu), Jane Thabantšo (Matlama).
Strikers: Litšepe Marabe (Bantu), Thabiso Brown (Kick4Life), Nkoto Masoabi (Lioli), Tumelo Khutlang (Sundawana).