The battle for Independence Cup glory explodes this weekend at Setsoto Stadium with Bantu, Matlama, Lioli and LCS fighting-it-out for the M110 000 first prize at stake.
Bantu and LCS get the tournament underway on Saturday at 1pm, with Lioli facing Matlama in the second semi-final of the day soon after.
Winners of the two semis clash the following day in the final scheduled for the same venue, while the losing semi-finalists fight for third place in the curtain-raiser of the decisive tie.
Lioli coach, Mosholu ‘Shoes’ Mokhothu, told the Lesotho Times that his side would need to bounce back against Matlama after losing 3-1 to Bantu on Sunday. The defeat was Lioli’s first in seven league matches this season, and Mokhothu said his charges cannot afford to lose back-to-back matches as it has never happened for the past three seasons.
“We must bounce back immediately. That is why we were back at work on Monday to address our weaknesses that saw us lose to Bantu at the weekend,” Mokhothu said.
“I had a meeting with the players because it was important that we reviewed our mistakes and get back to winning ways as soon as possible.”
Mokhothu admitted his players were not at their best on Sunday and was particularly critical of the defence.
“We made a lot of mistakes defensively and at the end of the day, got punished for it. But you have to understand that it’s all part of the game; it’s true we were shocked with the result because Bantu had been struggling in recent matches, but like I said, this is football and anything can happen,” said Mokhothu.
The amiable coach has however, allayed fears that the defeat could be the beginning of the end of Lioli’s invincibility.
“I don’t think there is any need to panic because we have a good team. It is just a matter of planning better and we will get the results we need.
“We are the defending champions of the independence tournament, so we must come back stronger and deliver against Matlama on Saturday,” he said.
On his part, Matlama coach, Moses Maliehe, says his charges have what it takes to upset Lioli and go all the way to win the Independence Cup.
“I’m convinced that this group of players has matured enough to win this trophy,” Maliehe said on Tuesday.
“We will have a totally different approach to league matches and the boys are motivated to make their supporters happy.
“We come into the match in high spirits after ding will in the league and I don’t see anything stopping us from clinching the title.”
According to Maliehe, doing well in the independence tournament has been one of the team’s targets this season.
“I think this time around, we can go a mile further after losing in the final last year against Lioli,” Maliehe said.
Meanwhile, LCS coach Mpitsa Marai would be aiming to cause an upset against a Bantu side brimming with confidence following their 3-1 win over Lioli in a league match at Setsoto Stadium on Sunday. This was Lioli’s first defeat of the season.
“Cup competitions are always different; it’s all about the motivation of the players and the spirit in camp at the time,” Marai said.
“It has been a while since LCS won a cup competition so it would be good to win the independence tournament because I believe we have that ability.
“We had a slow start to the season after I took over as coach this season, but I feel there has been a big improvement in recent matches.”
Marai said his team would be without veteran centreback and national team captain Moitheri Ntobo due to injury. He however, said he expect a lot from star-forward, Thabo Seakhoa, despite his current dip in form.
“Of-course, the injury to Ntobo is a big blow, but we have a good mix of young and experienced players,” said Marai.
“As for Seakhoa, it’s a matter of getting his confidence back because I’m not happy with his contribution at the moment, for a player of his potential.”
Bantu caretaker coach, Caswell Moru, is happy his team is finally coming good but has warned the players against over-confidence following Sunday’s famous win against Lioli.
“This is a big competition and it is important that we do well. I think the win over Lioli was good for morale in camp after a difficult start to the new season,” Moru said.
“Now our players will believe in their abilities again, but it could also be dangerous if they become over-confident.
“I know the fact that we beat Lioli means our opponents will now prepare better for us. Our situation is more or less the same to that of LCS as they also had a slow start, but have since recovered and are doing so well. So on the day of the match, it will boil down to the team that has had better preparations,” he said.
Bankrolled by Metropolitan Lesotho and Standard Lesotho Bank to the tune of M600 000, the Independence Cup has become one of the most coveted silverwares in domestic football. While the winner takes home M100 000, the second, third and fourth teams take home M60 000, M40 000 and M30 000 respectively.
There will also be a man-of-the-match award in all four fixtures, whose winner gets M1000. There is also going to be M1, 500 for outstanding individuals such as player, goalkeeper, referee and top goal-scorer of the tournament.
Teams which ended the previous premiership season in first to fourth positions qualify for the competition held as part of celebrations to mark the country’s independence. Lesotho gained independence from Britain on 4 October 1966.