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Likuena hit rock bottom

by Lesotho Times
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MASERU — Sometimes results and score-lines can be misleading, failing to paint the full picture or even changing the reality of what happened.

But in whichever way it transpired, Likuena’s 5-0 humbling  at the hands of Malaysia’s under-23 sidelast Friday has confirmed that Lesotho have hit rock bottom — the knock-out blow after a brief, promising stagger.  

Like a boxer who was bravely wobbling on after a barrage of punches, showing signs of a comeback, Likuena have abruptly been knocked cold in the worst possible fashion.

For any Likuena supporter this past weekend has been a nightmare, filled with the realisation that, in a World Cup year, Lesotho cannot even claim to be worthy training opponents, let alone competitors.

Of course Lesotho have not at any point over the past decade been superpowers; nonetheless a 5-0 loss is a sign of super weakness and cannot be swept under the rug.

To put things into context, the rout in Malaysia is only worse than four other defeats suffered by Lesotho — a 7-0 loss to Zaire (DRC) in 1993, a 6-0 reverse against Gambia in 2002 and 6-1 losses to Zambia (1972) and Mozambique (1980).

But even more depressingly, just like the boxer who was caught with his hands down, this blow could have been prevented.

After a shocking 2008 where Likuena won just once, 2009 had been much better. The second of what was designed to be a four-year tenure under Serbian coach Zavisa Milosavljevic had shown promise.

Despite not winning any of their five games this year, Likuena had only lost once — four of the five matches were away from home.

Likuena had by all accounts played well with positive reports emanating from their one-all draws in Swaziland (twice) and Zimbabwe. Each time Lesotho took the lead but conceded late equalisers.

But suddenly, a week before the trip to Malaysia and only a month before the COSAFA Senior Challenge Cup, Milosavljevic was fired. Granted, the Serbian had won only two of the 17 games he was in charge.

But then again it is important to remember Lesotho are no powerhouse, neither in African football nor at COSAFA level.

Swaziland have five players playing in South Africa’s Premier League, Botswana has three. Mozambique have five, while Malawi are one of 20 African countries competing in the final round of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.

Angola, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, meanwhile are — whether people like it or not — miles ahead. Indeed Lesotho’s Premier League remains the only fully-fledged amateur top-flight league in the COSAFA region.

Expecting victories is as reckless as it is unintelligent.

Nevertheless the unceremonious dumping of coaches has continued. German Antoine Hey was fired in 2006 after only two years in charge before Motheo Mohapi was ousted in a similarly unceremonious fashion the following year.

Clearly the sacking of coaches has not helped the national side — any team needs time to be built.

In the meantime, Lesotho continue to fail to attract international games because of their performances — Likuena have lost 16 of their last 30 outings — and have a lowly world ranking.

In March Malawi declined to play Likuena after their coach Kinnah Phiri deemed Lesotho to be too poor an opposition.

And now comes a 5-0 loss to Malaysia’s Under-23s.

To blame Leslie Notši for the beating would be harsh; he was thrown into the deep end given just a week to prepare the team. He too had expressed surprise at the sacking of Milosavljevic when the team was in the process of rebuilding.

Notši’s job now will be to re-assemble his battered charges for the COSAFA Challenge to be held in a month’s time in Zimbabwe. Whether he will be given friendly games by his masters at LEFA remains to be seen, probably not.

But those aren’t the only questions circling the team like vultures around a carcass.

Will Lesotho go past the first round of next month’s COSAFA Challenge? Will Notši or any Likuena coach ever be given unwavering support? Will Lesotho stop being the laughing stock of world football?

It would be wonderful if Likuena came back from Zimbabwe as kings of COSAFA, but that sadly is highly unlikely. At this point in time there seems to be no light at the end of this very long, miserable tunnel.

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