Likuena begin African safari
…National football team begin quest for a place at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations tournament
Mikia Kalati and Moorosi Tsiane
National team and Matlama midfielder Mabuti Potloane has called on his teammates to fight to the bitter end when they face Ethiopia on Sunday to kick-start their 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) campaign.
Likuena, as the national team is affectionately known, left for Addis Ababa yesterday and face the one-time continental football powerhouse in a match both Potloane and coach Seephephe Matete have said is a must-win for Lesotho.
Potloane on Tuesday told the Lesotho Times that after the disappointment of COSAFA 2015—in which Likuena lost 2-0 to Madagascar and 2-0 against Swaziland before scrapping 1-0 past Tanzania but crashed out of the regional tournament in the group stage last month in South Africa—Likuena would have to win in Addis Ababa Stadium to earn the respect of Basotho once again.
The 2013/14 premier league player of the season further said the COSAFA debacle had been a bitter pill to swallow, but also a learning curve for the players.
“We have been working hard as a team and promise to do the country proud in Ethiopia,” Potloane said.
“Things did not go well at the COSAFA tournament and we have since worked on our mistakes after learning what our strong and weak points were.”
The midfielder has also called on the country to continue supporting them as they also want to win silverware and not be an embarrassment to Lesotho.
“We, as players, also have dreams, which is to qualify for major competitions such as AFCON and the World Cup, which Likuena have never done before,” said Potloane.
“I can also assure you that morale is very high in camp and we are motivated to do well not only against Ethiopia but the rest of the AFCON qualifiers against Algeria and the Seychelles.
“We need to qualify for both AFCON and the African Nations Championship (CHAN), and we are all looking forward to these matches as we will be facing Botswana next in the CHAN qualifier (on 21 June at home and 5 July in Gaborone),” he said.
Potloane also said there would be no distractions this time around since the Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) had resolved the issue of players’ allowances which was the source of discontent in the past.
“We have reached an agreement with LeFA and are satisfied with what has been put on the table,” said Potloane.
LeFA secretary general, Mokhosi Mohapi, also said players’ allowances had been increased from M150 to M200 a day.
Mohape added: “Preparations have been smooth, including for CHAN’s home match against Botswana and tickets will go on sale next week at M60 for the Grand Stand and M50 for the Open Stand.
“I can also confirm that our team has received an invitation to play Malawi after CHAN’s second leg away to Botswana. However, we will consider that with time.”
Mohapi also announced that Likhopo striker Thapelo Tale would not be available for Sunday’s match due to injury.
“He still has an injury from the COSAFA tournament and will not make the trip to Ethiopia,” said Mohapi.
Meanwhile, Matete believes Lesotho should beat Ethiopia in the first match to instill the much-needed confidence among the players. The veteran mentor admits Lesotho’s Group J opponents—Algeria, Ethiopia, and the Seychelles—are tricky customers that require thorough planning and support from every stakeholder.
A total of 52 teams, which have been divided into 13 groups, are taking part in the qualifiers with the pool-winners automatically qualifying for the final alongside hosts Gabon and two other teams with the best record. Should Lesotho fail to win the pool, he wants Likuena to be one of the two teams that qualify due to an outstanding record.
Matete told the Lesotho Times’ sister publication, the Sunday Express last week: “We had a terrible time at last month’s COSAFA tournament in Rustenburg, South Africa, and one of the reasons for that was because we lost our first match against Madagascar. That’s why it’s important that we beat Ethiopia in the first qualifier to give the boys the confidence they need as they go into the next match. We don’t want a repeat of COSAFA, and I have emphasised this to the team.
“We are in a tight group but the biggest threat remain Algeria who are ranked first on the continent. That’s why we are hoping to at least finish second in the group, but then again, football is football and always full of surprises. So anything can happen and we might end up topping the group and getting automatic qualification to the 2017 AFCON tournament in Gabon.”
However, Matete also admitted beating Ethiopia—who won the AFCON tournament on home soil in 1962, and were runners-up in 1957, third in 1959 and fourth in 1963 and 1968 but have become a pale shadow of their former glorious self—would not be easy. Although Ethiopia have been qualifying for the AFCON tournament over the years, they have not been doing well, while Lesotho have never been to the biennial showcase.
Matete said: “This will be a very important and tough match for us because we will be playing a good team, which is also hoping to collect maximum points on home soil. That’s why I am saying we need to be completely focused on the job at hand and ensure we get a positive result in Addis Ababa.”
On his part, LeFA public relations officer, Thabo Maretlane, said the association was fully behind the coach despite the COSAFA embarrassment.
“His mandate was to reach the semifinals at the COSAFA tournament but he also had to make sure the team qualified for CHAN (to be held in Rwanda next year),” Maretlane said.
“It is therefore only fair that we react once the team has played the other competition.
“We need to come together and support this team and make sure they do well.”
Meanwhile, after next Sunday’s match, Lesotho face Algeria at home on the weekend of 4-6 September 2015 and Seychelles between 23-26 March 2016 at home. Matete’s charges then play the reverse ties against Seychelles between 26-29 2016 away, Ethiopia on 3-5 June 2016 at home and wind-up their campaign away against Algeria on 2-4 September 2016.
Goalkeepers: Mohau Kuenane (Lioli), Kananelo Makhooane (Likhopo).
Defenders: Nkau Lerotholi (Matlama), Thapelo Mokhehle (Bantu), Jerry Kamele (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), Mabuti Potloane, Jane Thabantšo (both Matlama)
Strikers: Litšepe Marabe (Bantu), Thabiso Brown (Kick4Life), Nkoto Masoabi (Lioli), Tumelo Khutlang (Likhopo).