Why Bantu might just edge it

Lesotho Times - - Sport - Moorosi Tsiane

It was D-day on Mon­day last week as the Con­fed­er­a­tion of african Foot­ball (Caf) con­ducted the much-an­tic­i­pated 2015 Cham­pi­ons League draw.

Le­sotho cham­pi­ons Bantu were among the dozens of clubs anx­iously await­ing the draw of african foot­ball’s elite and had their prayers an­swered af­ter be­ing paired against as­so­ci­a­tion Sportive (as) Man­gas­port of Gabon— hardly a su­per­power of the con­ti­nen­tal game.

I, for one, be­lieve this was a very fair draw for Bantu, who had made it clear they would rather play any­one else but not teams from South africa, the DR Congo and Zam­bia in the pre­lim­i­nary round of the show­piece.

Bantu fly to Gabon on the sec­ond week­end of Fe­bru­ary to make their de­but in this con­ti­nen­tal tour­na­ment, and then host Man­gas­port a fort­night later at Set­soto.

Per­son­ally, I am con­vinced Mot­latsi Shale’s charges have what it takes to make it into the next round of the com­pe­ti­tion at Man­gas­port’s ex­pense, be­cause this is the very same team that won its maiden Pre­mier League ti­tle with only one loss in 26 matches last sea­son. How­ever, there will only be one name miss­ing from Bantu come the 2015 Cham­pi­ons League, and that would be lethal striker tse­bang Le­bata, whose promis­ing ca­reer has since been wrecked by a de­bil­i­tat­ing in­jury.

Le­bata was a very in­stru­men­tal player for Bantu last sea­son, lead­ing the attack with such aplomb and land­ing the Vo­da­com Pre­mier League top scorer award, or Golden Boot as the foot­ball fra­ter­nity likes to call it, with 14 goals. But a quirk of fate has ruled this unas­sum­ing hit­man out of the game for at least one sea­son, which means he could be out the en­tire 2014/15 cam­paign and prob­a­bly even longer.

Many Bantu fans are com­plain­ing that their team is no longer as po­tent as it used to be last sea­son, but I beg to dif­fer be­cause this is a classy side that still care­fully works its way past the op­po­si­tion be­fore plant­ing the ball home or restart­ing this game of wits, as foot­ball has al­ways been.

Bantu might be trail­ing cur­rent Vo­da­com Pre­mier League loglead­ers Li­oli by seven points go­ing into the fes­tive sea­son or half­way break, but re­main a danger­ous out­fit with all the tell­tale signs of a well-drilled side.

the team, I sup­pose, only ap­pears to be hav­ing a tor­rid time of it at this stage of the Premier­ship cam­paign, sim­ply be­cause their op­po­nents have since be­come more or­gan­ised and ready to face them.

It is true Bantu might not have the best squad on pa­per, but if there is one thing I have learnt about foot­ball, is names count for lit­tle, with de­ter­mi­na­tion, unity of pur­pose and that love of the badge, al­most al­ways de­ter­min­ing the out­come of a match.

On so many oc­ca­sions, I have watched Bantu play and re­alised they pos­sess all this and more— which is to make Le­sotho proud by be­com­ing the first lo­cal team to clear the first hur­dle in the race to land africa’s most lu­cra­tive club foot­ball com­pe­ti­tion, whose win­ner is guar­an­teed a cool M10 mil­lion.

Lo­cal foot­ball has re­mained at devel­op­ment stage due to a num­ber of fac­tors, among them lack of funds that has dis­cour­aged play­ers from giv­ing that ex­tra-push when they face their highly paid coun­ter­parts from coun­tries such as South africa. that is why it would not be fair to ex­pect Bantu to even reach the money-spin­ning group stage of the Cham­pi­ons League be­cause this is a com­pe­ti­tion that draws the best teams from africa, most of which are heav­ily funded by both the cor­po­rate world and their gov­ern­ments.

Yet I still have faith in Bantu cre­at­ing their own piece of his­tory and mak­ing it past Man­gas­port and storm­ing the first round of the tour­na­ment.

If any­one had any doubts of Bantu’s ca­pac­ity, then pause for a mo­ment to an­a­lyse their squad, man for man. and you might not even want to go all the way in eval­u­at­ing the en­tire squad, as the ball might start and stop at their Prodi­gal Son, Litšepe Marabe. Marabe has been at the peak of his pow­ers this sea­son and not even an en­tire sea­son of in­ac­tion at Garankuwa united in South africa has blunted his ef­fec­tive­ness in front of goal. the striker failed to play any com­pet­i­tive match last sea­son af­ter united failed to se­cure him a work per­mit, and not many be­lieved he had the men­tal stamina to come back this strong and lead the lines with such author­ity at Bantu once again.

With 10 strikes at the half-way stage of the 26-match sea­son, Marabe is now lead­ing the Pre­mier League’s scor­ing charts and is one player who can make a dif­fer­ence when Bantu wade into the stormy and un­char­tered wa­ters of con­ti­nen­tal foot­ball in Fe­bru­ary.

the back­line of a Matšo Mate­bele, as Bantu are af­fec­tion­ately known, has also been one of their strong­est points and I be­lieve the in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence of thapelo Mokhehle, tlali Maile, thabo Ma­su­alle and ei­ther thabiso Mo­hapi or Sepir­iti Male­fane, will come in handy go­ing into this com­pe­ti­tion.

Man­gas­port might have just won their sev­enth league ti­tle and would be tak­ing part in their sixth Caf Cham­pi­ons League cam­paign, but like I said, in Bantu, they face

a determined foe fight­ing for their coun­try and hop­ing to come out with a re­sult.

It has been proved on count­less oc­ca­sions that teams from out­side the coun­try strug­gle to beat Le­sotho sides at Set­soto Sta­dium and I be­lieve if Shale and his charges can re­turn from Gabon with a draw, then their pas­sage to the next stage is all-but guar­an­teed, pro­vided the play­ers re­main grounded and fo­cused on the task at hand.

there are cer­tain coaches who have the abil­ity to get the best out of their play­ers, and I rate Shale among that il­lus­tri­ous group, hence my op­ti­mism that he can take this team far as far as the Cham­pi­ons League is con­cerned.

Many pun­dits have been ar­gu­ing that although Li­oli and Mat­lama did not pass the first stage of the Caf Cham­pi­ons League, at least they man­aged to reg­is­ter wins at home, while LCS also once man­aged a draw against Dy­namos of Zim­babwe, which the same ex­perts be­lieve should be ap­plauded.

How­ever, I be­lieve, Bantu might just edge it and not only win at home and also away and reach that point of the com­pe­ti­tion where ev­ery­thing and any­thing would now be pos­si­ble.

Mean­while, it would be re­miss of me not to ac­knowl­edge the ath­letes, fans and ad­min­is­tra­tors who made 2014 a truly re­mark­able sport­ing year for Le­sotho.

I am look­ing for­ward to an equally ex­cit­ing 2015, and of­course, our very own Bantu bring­ing us the honours that we have so much craved for, for so long.

Happy Sport­ing 2015.

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