. . . bemoans lack of quality players in Lesotho
. . . ready to accept any decision taken over his future
LIKUENA coach, Veselin Jelušic, has once again failed to deliver. But he is not giving up hope.
He has promised to continue working hard to ensure Lesotho one day in the future sees some glory days for its national team, which has never qualified for any major tournament.
His side’s dream to qualify for the next Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament came to an agonising end over the weekend when they lost 2-0 to Zambia at Dobsonville Stadium in Soweto, South Africa.
This after they were beaten 3-1 by the same opponents at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola last Thursday.
Likuena are still hanging at the bottom of the qualifiers’ Group H with just one point from four games. Ivory Coast is lead the group with 10 points while Zambia are on second with nine points. Comoros are on third with three points.
Only two teams will qualify from the group. However, Ivory Coast have automatic qualification by virtue of being the tournament’s hosts next year between January and February. The exact dates are yet to be set. This means there is only one qualification slot left which Lesotho, Comoros and Zambia are fighting for.
However, the race for that slot is now between Zambia and Comoros because Lesotho is out. Likuena can only reach a maximum seven if they win their remaining two matches.
Lesotho face Comoros at home in June at a date yet to be announced while their last game will be away against Ivory Coast in September. The date is also yet to be set.
Jelušić has failed to in his two mandates since his appointment in February last year.
The Serbian first flopped during last year’s Council of Southern African Football Association (COSAFA) Champion in Durban, South Africa from 5 to 17 July 2022.
He was expected to take the team to at least the semifinals but Likuena couldn’t even reach the quarterfinals. They were booted in the group stages.
A meek Jelušić said despite being out of the qualification race, they would keep on fighting until their last game.
He told the Lesotho Times in a post-match interview on Sunday that he would bring in new young players into the team so that they can also have a feel of international competition and market themselves.
“We are out but we will keep on competing to improve the standard of our football. We believe that will help the players to market themselves and hopefully attract foreign clubs were standards are high.”
Jelušić also said he was aware that Lesotho had a few foreign based players. It was thus his duty to bring good results from the available local players, he said.
“Zambia has about 15 players playing abroad and we only have three. It is therefore difficult to compete against such a team. But I’m happy with my work in Lesotho and I will continue trying my best to produce good results.”
Upon his arrival in February last year, Jelušić gave the nation a glimmer of hope when he led the team to qualify for the ongoing AFCON qualifiers group stages after eliminating Seychelles in the preliminaries.
Likuena drew 0-0 with Seychelles away on 23 March 2022 before beating them 3-1 at Dawsonville Stadium in Soweto, South Africa, four days later.
But since then, Lesotho has been on a downward spiraling and back to its losing ways.
Speaking yesterday at a press briefing at Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) premises at Bambatha Ts’ita Sport Arena, Jelušic said one of the challenges was that Lesotho lacked quality players on aspects like speed, endurance and technics.
There was also need for football education as early as grassroots level, he said.
“We have good players but we should recognise our limits, especially when we are taking about speed and the level of technics as compared to other countries.”
Jelušić has also defended his defensive style of play citing that with the current crop of players in the country it was not easy to go pound for pound against strong teams.
“Our approach to matches has to be realistic. It is not that we don’t want to dominate possession, but our level of technic doesn’t allow us that. If we try that we will be exposed and that would be suicidal.
“With the players we have we are forced to play in compact formation, close to our goals while we wait to catch them on counter attacks,” he said.
There has been an outcry in the football fraternity that it is time for Jelušić to step down following the team’s recent poor performance.
In response, the coach said he would accept any decision taken by LeFA executive committee over his future.
“I take responsibly for the results and I’m ready for any action that LeFA might decide to take,” Jelušić said.
Out of the 15 games played since his arrival across all competitions, Likuena won five matches, lost four and drawn six times.
Likuena are currently playing their official games in South Africa as Setsoto Stadium is under Confederation of African Football (CAF) suspension due to bad state.
This somehow had a negative impact on the teams’ performance as the players don’t get enough support from the fans, Jelušić said.