LIKUENA will get their regional COSAFA Cup campaign underway this Saturday when they take on Swaziland (now Eswatini) in the quarterfinals.
For the second successive year Moses Maliehe’s side have been given a bye to start the competition in the knockout stage after good performances in the previous two editions of the tournament.
The Likuena coach has said his goal and that of the team was to reach the final, which will definitely re-write the history books of football in the country as Lesotho last made it to the final in the year 2000.
There is no doubt that Swazi football has the momentum with their side, Mbabane Swallows currently playing in the group stage of the African (CAF) Champions League.
Swallows have been the surprise package of the continental club competition and are second in their group having played a 1-1 draw against Zesco United of Zambia in their opening match and beating Primero de Agosto of Angola in their second match to take second position behind Etoile du Sahel in their Group.
Just like Maliehe, the Swazi national team coach has called his tried and tested players that include captain Tony Tsabezde and all of the Swallows players that have done well in the Champions league.
Again, one should remember that Sihlangu, as the Swazi team is affectionately known, won the last competitive match between the two countries, which coincidentally also came at the regional competition in 2015 while Lesotho was still under the mentorship of Seephephe Matete before they were knocked out in the group stages.
Their club Swallows also happens to be the very same team that eliminated Lesotho’s Champions Bantu from the Champions League and that for me says a lot about Likuena being the underdogs going into Saturday’s encounter.
This is a challenge for the Likuena players to dig deep if they are to get their revenge over Sihlangu.
The Swazi team is high on confidence going into the tournament having over the weekend clinched a 1-0 over Kenya in a practice match played in Nairobi.
From what I have seen, the Likuena players are indeed looking forward to the challenge and ready to battle Swaziland in the fight to make it to the semi-finals.
I have also managed to talk to a few of the Likuena players who will be looking to use the COSAFA platform to showcase their talent at the big stage.
Among these players, a lot will be expected from the duo of Luciano Matsoso and Tshwarelo Bereng, who both will be playing their first tournament with the national team.
Matsoso plays his football in Poland while Bereng was last in the books of Chippa United in the South African Premier League (PSL) and both bring international experience into the team.
Surely Likuena coach will be expecting them to rise to the occasion for players of their calibre.
Maliehe has also recalled experienced duo of Nkau Lerotholi and Basia Makepe, who makes a return to the regional competition after a self-imposed exile from international football.
Likuena were very erratic in defence in the last year competition, but we all hope that the experience of the two players will help the team improve while they are also expected to lead by example having both captained Likuena in this tournament before.
The other player I’m hoping will also rise to the occasion is Kick4Life striker, Nkoto Masoabi, who is going to the competition after a very impressive season in the Econet Premier League.
Masoabi netted a brace in the last match of the season against Linare a fortnight ago to take his tally in the league to 16 goals, but has managed 17 in all competitions for his club.
I hope he takes his goal scoring form to the national set-up because only goals can help Likuena beat Swaziland in the quarter-final clash.
The regional competition will also give the likes of Tumelo Khutlang a chance to get his groove back after a disappointing season with Lioli.
Khutlang was the hottest property in the country along with Hlopho Kalake after the last year COSAFA Cup, having even attracted the attention of international scouts.
To be honest, I think it was expected that the forward would go through a rough patch having seen his dream of playing in South Africa fall apart in the eleventh hour.
This is after Khutlang had a pre-season with South African National First Division side, Mthatha Bucks, who had shown interest to sign the player only for it to fail to materialise in the last minute.
That was indeed heart breaking, but the player has another chance to prove to international scouts that he is a real deal when he takes to the field against Swaziland on the weekend.
Good luck Likuena!