MASERU — It is often said that fortune favours the brave and that was the case in Likuena’s hard-fought but thrilling 2-2 draw against Zimbabwe in the Cosafa Castle Challenge on Monday.
It’s been a while since a Likuena team has played with such assurance — composed in possession and unyielding in front of a partisan Harare crowd. Twice Lesotho had to come from behind, and twice Thabiso Maile slotted home penalties to grab a precious result.
It was the first time Lesotho had scored twice in a game since the 3-2 World Cup qualifying defeat to Ghana last June.
But perhaps even more encouragingly, Likuena were hungry, defending manfully against an explosive Zimbabwe attack in a continuation of a year of steady if not spectacular progress that last week saw Likuena rise to 156th in Fifa’s latest world rankings — Lesotho’s highest placing for 16 months.
However there was more to Monday’s result than met the eye, and the fickle nature of international football means Likuena’s caretaker coach Leslie Notši should have been concerned with how his charges started and ended the game against Zimbabwe.
During the first quarter of an hour Likuena were chaotic, bumbling like headless chickens with the defence particularly shambolic.
That period included Zimbabwe’s sixth minute opener after some indecisive defending on the edge of the box, and more goals could and should have followed.
Likuena also ended the game just as badly.
After Zimbabwe’s second goal to take the lead in the 61st minute Likuena panicked, and in the process lost their shape and the ball. The only reprieve for Lesotho in another period of disarray was long balls to striker Mokhethi Matšora.
But fortune does favour the brave and on Monday afternoon the football gods smiled on Likuena.
During their opening mayhem, an injury to goalkeeper Sam Ketsekile allowed Lesotho a much needed breather and time to regroup.
More luck then rained down on Likuena during their second phase of horror when just as it seemed all hope was gone another long punt forward resulted in a penalty after a moment of madness from Zimbabwe’s keeper.
But apart from periods of relative disaster Likuena looked a proper international team — matching their hosts physically, tactically and at times outdoing them technically.
Bushy Moletsane, calm and wise in possession, was at his elegant best playing behind the strike partnership of ‘Muso and Matšora.
The two forwards were themselves busy, ‘Muso drifted expertly and won both penalties while Matšora ran like a horse for 90 minutes.
At the back captain Moitheri Ntobo was the rock that held the defence together. He was partnered in central defence by Mpitsa Marai with Khoto Sesinyi and Thabo Masualle patrolling at fullback.
In front of the back four was a compact midfield trident —Maile anchoring, with Molefe Lekoekoe and Bokang Mothoana either side of him.
Not only was Maile outstanding in protecting his defence, his distribution allowed his midfield partners to thrive. Lekoekoe playing on the right kept things simple and effective while Mothoana was simply everywhere to add to his quality deliveries from set-pieces.
But if Lesotho shone as individuals they excelled as a team. In the minutes leading up to Likuena’s first equaliser they probed with intelligence, passing up and down, slow and quick, bamboozling their hosts.
However there is a lot to learn for Lesotho. Five minutes after equalising they were behind again. International football is cruel and mistakes such as Lekunutu Tšoeunyane’s fumble in the lead-up to the goal are punished.
Lesotho also needs to learn to score. when they had the possession they never created goal scoring chances, and if Zimbabwe had been more clinical they would have won.
But the tactical ground work laid by Zavisa Milosavljevic was there for all to see and maybe the biggest plus is that when Lesotho came off the field after the draw there were no wild celebrations.
This indeed was not a win, the job was not done and there is more to come.
Maybe there is much more to come from Likuena. And maybe Lesotho can look forward to next year’s 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
Zimbabwe: Cuthbert Malajila (6min), Evans Gwekwerere (61 min)
Lesotho: Thabiso Maile (55min pen, 85min pen)
Likuena team vs Zimbabwe:
(4-3-1-2) Sam Ketsekile (Lekunutu Tšoeunyane 13th 7) — Thabo Masualle 6, Mpitsa Marai 7, Moitheri Ntobo 7, Khoto Sesinyi 6 — Thabiso Maile 8*, Molefe Lekoekoe 7 (Katleho Moleko 74th 6), Bokang Mothoana 7 — Bushy Moletsane 8 — Sello ‘Muso 7 (Mokone Marabe 87th) Mokhethi Matšora 7.