Likuena coach defends team

MASERU — Likuena coach Leslie Notši has defended his team after Lesotho’s dismal exit from 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

Likuena were painfully toothless in a 0-0 draw with Sao Tomé and Principe on Sunday at Setsoto Stadium, a result which meant Likuena were knocked out 1-0 on aggregate by a  side that was only playing its third official match after a seven-year absence from international football.

It’s a result that raises many questions over the national team’s on-field prospects.

However in an interview with the Lesotho Times on Tuesday, Notši refused to apportion blame.

“We are disappointed, (but) there is no one we can blame,” Notši said.

“If we had won we wouldn’t be talking about any of the problems we had in the build-up. We lost together as a team, life has to go on. The loss is painful but we shouldn’t lose focus.”

That though will be difficult, especially after the high-point brought by November’s World Cup win over Burundi masterminded by Notši and his team.

After Sunday’s loss, it all seems like a very long time ago.

Notši admitted his hurt at the defeat, but he praised his players for what he said was effort shown under difficult circumstances.

“I’m very disappointed that we weren’t able to qualify for the next round. But we appreciate the way the players are behind the cause, which is the most important thing when you are working with people,” Notši said.

“Prior to the match we had problems, but the players understood they were working for the country and they put their heads down.

“We encountered problems missing our flights. It was an inconvenience (but) the players had patience throughout. You appreciate that as a coach,” Notši added.

To say the team was inconvenienced would be an understatement.

After a 1-0 first leg loss in Sao Tomé two Sunday’s ago, Likuena returned home late, only arriving last Friday morning after being stuck in Gabon, a bypass, for four days.

Asked whether he felt this affected the players, Notši disagreed.

“Maybe yes, maybe no — you can’t be inside the head of a person. The effect I saw was that they were over-anxious when it came to the game on Sunday, they put themselves under pressure to win,” Notši said.

“We said all along that it was a must-win game — but it didn’t go according to plan. We have to sit down and see where we can prepare and improve.

These improvements Notši admitted included “admin-wise”. “We have to be better as a whole,” Notši said.

Regarding the 1-0 aggregate loss, Likuena’s problems stem from the first leg where, by all accounts, Lesotho dominated the game but hit the woodwork on more than one occasion. Notši admitted his side’s finishing was a worry.

“In the first leg we lacked clinical finishing. We hit the upright, the crossbar and their keeper made brilliant saves. Three quarters of the game we put them under pressure,” Notši said.

“It’s a serious worry, and as the head I have to take the initiative. I have to sit down and engage the TD (technical director) and the Premier League to see when we can have the club coaches (to try solve the problem of finishing),” Notši said.

“People are measuring our football with the national team whereas it is club football that is the true reflection of where we are,” Notši added.

Notši dispelled any notion that his side took Sao Tomé lightly away from home.

“We gave them respect; you can’t go into someone’s backyard and disrespect them. The line-up we chose was the one which we believed was the best,” Notši said.

Questions have been raised about Lefa’s management and whether they took the Sao Tomé tie seriously.

But Lefa vice-president and Likuena team manager, Khiba Mohoanyane, rubbished this suggestion when it was put to him.

“This was a very important match, we wanted to beat Sao Tomé so we could play Sierra Leone in the next round,” Mohoanyane said.

“Our players played well. They didn’t play so well here on Sunday, but in Sao Tomé we were very unlucky,” he said.

But there were problems.

The original first leg tie against Sao Tomé was set for January 8 but it had to be postponed to January 15 after Lesotho was unable to secure flights.

In the end, Lesotho took a Kenyan Airways trip that passed through Ghana and Gabon.

For the final leg to Sao Tomé, Mohoanyane said Lesotho were forced to use a private plane because of the scarcity of flights to the island nation.

On the return the flight Mohoanyane said the plane left Sao Tomé an hour late.

This meant when the team arrived in Gabon on Monday for the return trip, the Kenyan Airways flight was already gone. The team had to stay in Gabon and only arrived back on
Friday.

“We had hired a private plan because the lack of flights. The plane left late from Sao Tomé to Libreville because it has its own times. The next flight from Libreville was on Thursday. We even opted for SA Airways but it was full,” Mohoanyane said.

Mohoanyane said there would be a meeting to chart the way forward when it comes to friendly games and training camps.

“The management will be meeting next week,” Mohoanyane said.

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