Fans were treated to a great show of beautiful football last weekend as defending champions Bantu, Matlama, Lioli and Linare battled-it-out in the 2014 Independence Cup tournament at Setsoto stadium.
The competition brought together four of the country’s biggest teams that also enjoy great following and it was indeed a full house at Setsoto over the two days of the championship.
But what really won my heart was a youthful Matlama side that went into the tournament as underdogs, alongside Linare.
We all know Ndebele ‘Tata Mocholene’ Taole is an experienced coach who always gets the best out of Tse Putsoa, but I must say I had not expected what I eventually saw from Matlama, based on their performance in league matches since the 2014/15 season started two months ago.
Not only did Tse Putsoa stun Bantu 4-3 on penalties to reach the final after the tie had ended goalless, the Sea Point-based outfit were the better side and had it not been for goalkeeper Liteboho Mokhesi and his two defenders, Tlali Maile and Thabo Masualle, I don’t think the game would have gone to the shootout.
Most of the Matlama players are around 25 years of age, excluding, of-course, veterans such as Pali Tšalong and Lebakeng ‘Moscow’ Lebesa.
For me, Bantu failed to come to the party and at the end of the day, the best team, which was Matlama, won the tie to book a place in the final, where they lost to Lioli following a gripping, 11-10, penalty marathon.
That victory ended Bantu’s dominance of the tournament, which they had won for three years in a row.
Like I have always said, there is just too much quality in that Lioli team that beat Linare comfortably, 2-0 to be exact, to get to the final.
Tse Nala boast of a very talented squad that even gives their coaches a pleasant headache, when having to select their best XI for a match.
Again in the final, it looked like Lioli would win over the 90 minutes of normal time, but were stunned by a world-class free-kick taken by player-of-the-tournament, Phafa Tšosane, leaving the final to be decided through a penalty shootout.
Although Tse Nala won the Independence Cup, they were made to sweat for it by a very hardworking youthful Matlama side that won the hearts of the throng that came to witness the best of Lesotho football in action.
I must say football was the winner at the end of the day and credit should go to Metropolitan Lesotho and Standard Lesotho Bank for continuing to sponsor this competition.
Not only does the tournament bring entertainment to the football fraternity, it also creates competition among the players, which is good for the overall development of our game.
I’m also very happy there was something for the players in every fixture, with man-of-the-match in each game walking away with M1000, as well as individual accolades for outstanding players throughout the competition.
Matlama captain and midfield genius, Tšosane, indeed deserved to win the player-of-the-tournament award and the same goes for, Makhetha Thakeli, also of Matlama, who won the goalkeeper-of-the-tournament award.
This is not only good for their club, but also the national team.
For me, I have seen Thakeli grow into a good goalkeeper playing for my home-team, Qoaling Highlanders, and I’m not surprised that everyone is calling for him to be included in the Likuena squad.
The Independence Cup tournament once again proved that Lesotho is blessed with talent and this means the likes of Thakeli, Tšosane, as well as Teboho ‘Teacher’ Mota, would now be vying for places in the Likuena team, and keeping the regulars on their toes.
Stars such as Tšepo Seturumane, Tšoanelo Koetle and Lekhanya Lekhanya were also at their best during the weekend tournament and we hope they take that spirit into tomorrow’s match when Likuena host Angola in a crucial 2015 Africa Cup of Nations group-stage qualifier.
Congratulation Tse Nala for emerging victors in the Independence Cup, to walk away with the M100 000 first prize money.
Having said that, I wish Likuena coach, Seephephe ‘Mochini’ Matete and his charges the best of luck against Angola.
This is a match we must win at all costs to keep alive our hopes of playing in the Afcon tournament for the first time ever.