MASERU — Mozambique coach Torsten Spittler has expressed doubt about the age of some of Lesotho’s Under-17 players after watching his charges go down 3-1 to Bahlabani in a CAF Youth Championship qualifier on Sunday.
Bahlabani, as Lesotho’s national Under-17 side are popularly known, won the duel at Setsoto Stadium thanks to goals from Motlalepula Chabeli, Mohau Khali and Moesa Mofelehetsi.
The win has set up a potentially explosive return match in Maputo in a fortnight’s time.
But Spittler, speaking after Sunday’s game, said Lesotho players were physically bigger and stronger, leading him to suspect some of them could have been over 17.
Age cheating is rampant in African football, with some national teams fielding older players in youth sides to enhance their chances of success.
“Our players were smaller and you could say they (Lesotho’s) were older,” Spittler told the Lesotho Times.
“It is something that happens in general in Africa.
“But in general Under-17 teams don’t have the same height and you are lucky if you have that in Lesotho.”
Most of Lesotho’s players were taller than their Mozambique counterparts.
“I’m not saying they were not at the right age,” Spittler added.
“Maybe they are under 17, but the difference is obvious.”
However the Lesotho Football Association’s (Lefa) acting chief executive officer, Mokhosi Mohapi, scoffed at any talk of age-cheating.
He said 11 players had been withdrawn from the Bahlabani squad before the qualifier because of concerns over their age.
“Any doubts are unfounded,” Mohapi said.
“We didn’t sit in only one meeting but two and we agreed it’s not just about winning.
“It’s about development and building a team for the future and that starts now.”
Bahlabani recovered from a nervy start to draw first blood on the stroke of halftime when Chabeli struck.
The home side then took a 2-0 lead five minutes into the second period but sloppy play two minutes later allowed Mozambique to score what may prove to be a crucial away goal.
Mofelehetsi however added a third for Lesotho in the 56th minute after a goalmouth scramble.
Bahlabani could have won by a wider margin but they fluffed numerous chances.
Spittler said Mozambique wanted to make Bahlabani rue the missed chances and the away goal conceded.
“A 2-0 win is enough for us (in the second leg),” Spittler said.
“The Lesotho team is not a bad team, but it is a team we can beat.”
Bahlabani coach Bishop Molatoli admitted his charges had made the return fixture more difficult than it should be.
“We missed so many chances but that is part of football,” Molatoli said in a post-match interview.
“If we had scored those goals we missed we would go Mozambique with no worries.
“We are going to have to prepare ourselves very well for the return game because the conditions are going to be very different.”