MASERU — This time last week Tsebang Lebata was like any other young player struggling to make an impression in football.
But on Sunday, at Lesotho’s theatre of dreams, the 18-year-old from Qacha’s Nek thrust himself into the limelight with a stunning hat-trick that has put Lesotho in the driver’s seat in their CAF Under-20 Youth Championships preliminary qualifying tie against Mozambique.
“There is still a lot to come,” Lebata shyly told the Lesotho Times after inspiring Makoanyane XI to a stunning 6-1 first-leg victory over Mozambique at Setsoto Stadium.
The result is Lesotho’s best in a competitive international match.
“I thank the coach and my teammates, and I think I showed what I can do,” Lebata said.
He certainly did.
Playing on the right wing, Lebata showed the speed and composure which had LCS and Likhopo scrambling over his services at the start of the season.
Lebata was eventually lured to Masheshena from his childhood club Liphakoe.
But after failing to win a first-team place he joined Likhopo during January’s transfer window.
And given the competition for places at the talent factory that is Likhopo, Lebata has not been a regular with Thapelo Tale, Mokone Marabe, Makara Ntaitsane, Mojalefa Tšoeu and Motlalepula ‘Matli all ahead of him in the pecking order.
Nevertheless adjusting to national level hasn’t been hard for him.
Sunday’s match against Mozambique was his third appearance for the Under-20 side this year.
Lebata was part of the Makoanyane XI side at last month’s Metropolitan Human Rights Four Nations Under-20 tournament in South Africa where Lesotho came third after losing 2-1 to Swaziland in the semi-finals and beating Botswana 4-3 in the third-place playoff.
There, Lebata scored his first goal in Lesotho colours in the 4-3 victory over Botswana.
It was the quickest goal of the tournament, coming within two minutes of kick-off.
Against Mozambique he struck early again, opening the scoring after five minutes.
Lebata then added his second in the 67th minute, coolly finishing after cutting in from the flank.
He completed his hat-trick with a similar strike seven minutes later.
“My teammates know my speed and they gave me the service I needed to score the goals,” Lebata said. “I’m proud to have scored those goals.”
Lesotho’s other three goals were scored by Thabiso Mohapi (61 minutes), Lehlomela Ramabele (77 minutes) and Jeremiah Kamela (90 minutes).
Lebata said they were fired up by the home support they got at Setsoto Stadium, which is still undergoing renovations.
“Football is not easy,” he said. “In the first half we were trying to attack down the flanks but it was not working well.
“But the crowd was good and they were saying things that were motivating us.”
Lebata, who is enrolled at the Lesotho Agricultural College, said he hoped he had impressed Under-20 coach Leslie Notši enough to warrant a regular starting place.
“I think now that he has seen what I can do I hope I can be in the team more often,” he said.
Likhopo manager Qamako Mahao said he wasn’t surprised by Lebata’s heroics.
“I’m not surprised. He has composure and when he is in the box he is a deadly finisher,” Mahao said.
“By nature he is a very quiet person but his tolerance is very high.
“He can do everything you ask of him and that makes him a good player.”
Next up for Lebata and his teammates is the second leg.
And despite the big lead Lebata said there was still hard work to do in Maputo next weekend.
“When you play away it’s not the same,” he said.
“We are going to have to prepare ourselves very well and work hard to win again.”