MASERU — By completing a famous victory over Kenya at Setsoto Stadium on Sunday, Lesotho’s national Under-20 team has joined some illustrious company.
Makoanyane XI will be among the continent’s finest sides at Under-20 level – Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Mali, Gambia and hosts Libya – at the 2011 Caf African Youth Championship which will kick off on March 18.
The Lesotho Times looks back on Makoanyane XI’s achievement while also speaking to the mastermind, Leslie Notši.
With over 540 minutes of football, miles of travelling and endless heart-stopping moments, it has been a memorable campaign.
Lesotho 7-2 Mozambique
First leg; April 18 2010;
Lesotho 6-1 Mozambique
Not much was known in terms of what was to be expected from Makoanyane XI as they embarked on their qualifying crusade for the African Youth Championships.
Thankfully Lesotho grabbed an early fifth-minute lead through speedster Tsebang Lebata, who finished coolly and settled the nerves at Setsoto Stadium.
But all didn’t seem well with the team and Notši’s side lacked cohesion.
The selection of Tšoanelo Koetle in midfield in particular looked a strange one.
With the hosts failing to impose themselves, a poor Mozambique side slowly crept back into the game and equalised in the 31st minute.
But with the Mozambicans apparently ill-disciplined and dogged by fitness problems — the visitors were dropping like flies with muscle cramps — Makoanyane XI grabbed a stranglehold on the game.
Just past the hour mark, Thabiso Mohapi rose above the defence at the far post to head into the net and give Lesotho a 2-1 lead.
Six minutes later it was 3-1 as the speedy Lebata burst into life again to grab his second of the game.
Two goals in three minutes, a hat-trick for Lebata and a first for Lehlomela Ramabele put the game well beyond the visitors.
Winger Jeremiah Kamele made it a rout with a last-minute penalty to effectively seal the tie and give Lesotho hope that perhaps 2010 was a special year after all.
Second leg; May 1 2010;
Mozambique 1-1 Lesotho
Given the score-line from the first leg the return in Maputo was merely a formality.
And when Litšepe Marabe smashed in a trademark free-kick just before halftime it was game over — Mozambique would have to score at least six second half goals and even Lesotho could not manage such a feat.
Mozambique did pull one back in the second half but it was never going to be enough to stop Makoanyane XI from moonwalking to a first-round date with South Africa.
“We found that Mozambique had changed their whole team and they were very robust,” Notši said.
“But I felt it was good practice for the team going forward to face that kind of challenge.”
Lesotho 3-2 South Africa
First leg; July 24 2010;
Dobsonville Stadium, Gauteng
South Africa 0-2 Lesotho
With Mozambique disposed of, a rather lonely Dobsonville Stadium was to be the setting for arguably Makoanyane XI’s best result during their qualifying campaign.
Lesotho were the clear underdogs going into the game.
South Africa had come fourth at the previous African Youth Championships and reached the second round at last year’s Fifa Under-20 World Cup, only losing to eventual winners Ghana.
But Notši’s charges had a plan which they stuck to.
They also had Goal King Ramabele, and his two late first-half goals were enough to give Lesotho a superb win and two away goals.
The result also gave Lesotho their biggest cheer since Likuena beat Niger 3-1 in an Afcon qualifier way back in March 2007 — the last time Lesotho won a senior competitive international match.
“South Africa started the game as the dominant team,” Notši said.
“They were playing through the middle, trying to score through quick combination play.
“We knew this was what they would do and we frustrated them by closing down the space in the centre of the field and hitting them on the break with the pace of Lehlomela, Litšepe and Tsebang.
“That’s where our strong point is – the transition from when we are defending to attack and our speed.
“I still think we can improve it even more because that is where football is going.
“The team was very excited after the win. That is where I saw that the opportunity was there for us to qualify.”
Second leg; August 8 2010;
Lesotho 1-2 South Africa
Even with the heroics of the first leg this was always going to be a difficult encounter, not least because of the pressure the team would be under.
It was a type of match none of the players had experienced before.
And it proved to be so.
Makoanyane XI were caught in between defending and attacking and as a result they were unable to get into the game.
Despite this, Lesotho took the lead on the counterattack through Ramabele’s fine finish in the 22nd minute.
However, instead of building on the momentum, and a 3-0 aggregate lead, Lesotho retreated into a shell and allowed their opponents to dictate.
Sleepy defending then allowed Sheldon Stevens the freedom to head home an equaliser a minute before halftime.
When South Africa skipper Tshepo Gumede gave his side a 2-1 lead two minutes after the break a pin drop could be heard in Setsoto.
South Africa pressed furiously for the goal that would see them through but Lesotho’s rear-guard stood firm.
The introduction of Mosiuoa Boseka also helped steady the ship.
The Bantu playmaker put the ball on the floor and Lesotho waved goodbye to Amajita.
Lesotho 1-0 Kenya
First leg; September 24 2010
National Stadium, Nairobi
Kenya 0-1 Lesotho
Lesotho’s winner came just a few minutes into the game through the in-form winger Lebata.
It was Lebata’s fourth of the qualifying campaign and his most important as it gave Lesotho a priceless away goal.
Instead of turning to defence Lesotho searched for a second and had a goal disallowed after the break.
In a hard-fought match, Kenya then missed a penalty.
There was intense pressure from Kenya towards the end but the young Makoanyane warriors held on to inflict Kenya’s first loss at home and set up a thrilling finale in Maseru.
“It was one of the highlights of the campaign and it showed the ability of the team,” Notši said.
“The goalkeeper (Kananelo Makhooane) was outstanding.
“I don’t want to single out any player but he showed that even if the defence is breached he will be there.
“For the goal we won the ball in the midfield and we immediately played out wide.
It was then played into the box and Lebata just hit it first time.
“We missed two sitters in the second half.”
Second leg; October 24 2010;
Lesotho 0-0 Kenya
Dark clouds and heavy rains threatened to spoil the party. Setsoto was not as full as it would have undoubtedly been otherwise.
To prove this the Royal Stand, the only area of the stadium with roofing, was packed as a sardine can.
Kenya started off much the brighter and would have taken the lead in the 29th minute were it not for Salebone Lekhooa’s wonderful last-ditch block on Kenyan striker Edwin Mwarua.
Several close shaves followed until the 40th minute when Marabe, seemingly awakened by the first sight of sunlight, started and almost finished a move of delightful precision.
It was a moment that would change the game.
With the sun finally out, and Boseka brought on from the bench, Makoanyane XI proceeded to dominate the second half, but they fluffed numerous goal-scoring chances.
They were almost punished in the final minute but the ever-reliable Makhooane saved a goal-bound long-range shot by Anthony Akumu to book Lesotho a place in Libya.
“It wasn’t a plan (to sit back). Our plan was to attack and get an early goal,” Notši said.
“But they also wanted a goal so it was very difficult and tightly contested.
“It’s a very massive achievement.
“I’m happy for all of the players; they have all played a part in the success.
“All of them have shown improvement and I have seen people with patience and love.
“We should try by all means to keep the team together.”