Likuena learning the hard way

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MikiaMikia Kalati

Likuena put up a gallant fight against Algeria on Sunday, but unfortunately, left Setsoto Stadium empty-handed after a 1-3 loss to Africa’s number-one ranked soccer nation.

With minnows Mauritania beating South Africa 3-1 in Nouakchott, and South Sudan recording their maiden win—a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Equatorial Guinea—at the weekend, it appeared Lesotho were also on course for an upset after a good display in the first 45 minutes of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier.

After coming back from a goal down to go to the break deadlocked at 1-1, it appeared Likuena would cause one of the major upsets in African football.

Even the Algerians later admitted they had expected a walk-in-the-park, only to be given a good run for their money by our boys.

I admit being surprised also at how we dictated the match in the first half especially in midfield, where we had the rejuvenated Ralekoti Mokhahlane at his best.

Yet while Likuena were so impressive all-round, the disturbing reality is we still lost the match.

This is the second loss for Seephephe Matete and his team since the AFCON qualifiers got underway in June.

The first was a 1-2 defeat to Ethiopia and after Sunday’s loss, I have come to the painful conclusion that it’s over for Lesotho as far as making it to the tournament is concerned.

Maybe qualifying by finishing as one of the best runners-up is still possible provided we win all our remaining qualifiers—away against Algeria, at home versus Ethiopia as well as the two-legged ties against Seychelles.

And this, it must be said, is simply impossible no-matter how we might want to keep the team’s spirits high.

The other lesson our team should have learnt by now is that only goals win matches and had we buried the few chances created in the first half against Algeria on Sunday, Likuena could have maybe won the tie or gotten away with a point.

One other worrying thing is that Likuena never learn from the past.

This nation has been taking part in AFCON and World Cup qualifiers for so long yet the best we have ever done is finish third in our four-team qualifying. Of-course, third place has never been good enough for the team to make a maiden appearance at these two showcases.

The big question one is bound to ask is: for how long should things continue this way? Are our football authorities happy that Likuena have persistently failed to make it to these crucial tournaments?

If Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) officials are really serious about the beautiful game, then it’s time they decided to do things differently.

I mean, the advertisement for this match was so poor hence there were so few spectators at Setsoto Stadium on Sunday.

This is our national team we are talking about here; it belongs to all Basotho and LeFA should go the extra mile and reach out to the football community in order to ensure Setsoto Stadium is filled to the rafters for such do-or-die fixtures.

For me, there is a lot we should have learned from the Algerians in preparing for this match.

Algerian officials came to Lesotho as far back as May soon after their coach had watched two of Likuena matches at the regional COSAFA tournament held in South Africa. That’s about three months ago.

The first step was making an inspection of Setsoto Stadium as well as the best hotel for their team to stay, and by the end of May, the North Africans knew where they would be based for this match.

Another arrangement the Algerians made was agreeing with the hotel management that they would bring their own chef to cook  for their team for the three days they were going to spend in Lesotho.

To me, this shows some countries have made real progress when it comes to football and I’m calling on the LeFA executive to learn from such progressive nations.

We might have lost the match on the field of play, but I also believe the Algerians were superior in every facet pertaining to this tie. Basically, they won the match the match before it even started.

Back to the pitch, their tactical awareness was superb, which is why they scored two goals in the last five minutes of the game to seal all the three points and a place at the summit of Group J with a maximum six points.

Winless Lesotho anchor the four-team pool, with the Seychelles, on one point, just above them and Ethiopia in second place on four points.

I also have this feeling that we could do better with a few more brains assisting Ntate Matete because I feel he got it wrong with his substitutions in the second half.

For me also, a player like Hlompho Kalake should not be played on the wings. Don’t get me wrong; Hlompho is a quality player, but against Algeria, we needed a player with speed to take on defenders the way Tšepo Seturumane was doing.

Group J

Team                     P              W            L             D            GF           GA          GD          PTs

1 Algeria                2              2              0              0             7              1              6              6

2 Ethiopia             2              1              0              1              3              2              1              4

3 Seychelles          2              0              1              1              1              5              -4            1

4 Lesotho        2          0          2               0          2              5              -3            0

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