THE senior national soccer team, Likuena, has been drawn alongside, Zambia, Comoros and Ivory Coast in Group H of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers’ group stages.
The draw was conducted in South Africa on Tuesday evening. The qualifiers will get underway on 30 May 2022.
Forty countries will participate in the qualifiers but only 24 will qualify for the tournament. The first and second runners-up from each group will qualify for the final tournament to be held in Ivory Coast in May and June 2023.
Although Ivory Coast are the hosts, they will be playing in the qualifiers in Group H along with Lesotho, Zambia and the Comoros.
This arrangement leave Lesotho under more pressure as Likuena must now finish on top of both Comoros and Zambia to qualify for their maiden AFCON appearance. This because no matter how the hosts perform in the qualifiers, they will proceed to the games along with one other team.
Therefore, Lesotho’s only chance is if they either win the group or come second. If they come second, then Ivory Coast should come first. If Ivory Coast come third or fourth and Lesotho comes either third or fourth, then Likuena would have failed to qualify.
Apart from Group H, the qualifiers will see a number of COSAFA teams battle in their respective groups. This will make this year’s COSAFA Cup, due to be staged in Durban after the first two rounds of the qualifiers, all the more important as a sighter for the sides. The sides could potentially clash there too.
South Africa and Zimbabwe could meet again in Group K, though that is dependent on FIFA lifting the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA)’s suspension by the beginning of the qualifiers.
The other two teams in their Cup of Nations qualifier pool are Morocco and Liberia.
Angola and Madagascar will face-off in Group E, and both might fancy their passage to the finals if they can see off inconsistent Ghana and Central African Republic.
eSwatini might also fancy an upset in Group B as they take on Burkina Faso, Cape Verde Islands and Togo.
The same goes for Namibia in Group C, who face Burundi, Cameroon and Kenya. The latter may also not take part in the qualifiers if their FIFA suspension is not lifted.
Malawi have it tougher in Group D as they tackle Egypt, Ethiopia and Guinea.
Botswana are up against Equatorial Guinea, Libya and Tunisia in Group J, while Mozambique will meet Benin, Rwanda and champions Senegal in Group L.
Reacting to the draw, Lesotho coach, Veselin Jelušić said now that the draw was out, they would start focusing on the preparations.
“Our focus is on our preparations because we knew that we would get teams that are highly ranked on the continent,” Jelušić said.
“Whichever team we are going to play, our approach is the same; to prepare to the best of our ability, respect all our opponents but at the same time doing all we can to achieve great results.”
He said he was also wary of the quality in the opponents’ teams.
“We know that Zambia are a very good team with some players playing in some of the best leagues in Europe, the English Premier League. Comoros are also a team made of professional players playing for European clubs in France, Belgium and so on, so we will be careful,” Jelušić said.
Jelušić has already named the local players for his provisional squad. The team started its preparations this week.