Likuena be­gin African sa­fari

Lesotho Times - - Front Page - Mikia Kalati and Moorosi Tsiane

Na­tional team and Mat­lama midfielder Mabuti Pot­loane has called on his team­mates to fight to the bit­ter end when they face Ethiopia on Sun­day to kick-start their 2017 Africa Cup of Na­tions (AF­CON) cam­paign.

Likuena, as the na­tional team is af­fec­tion­ately known, left for Ad­dis Ababa yesterday and face the one-time con­ti­nen­tal football pow­er­house in a match both Pot­loane and coach Seep­hephe Matete have said is a must­win for Le­sotho. Pot­loane on Tues­day told the Le­sotho

Times that af­ter the dis­ap­point­ment of COSAFA 2015—in which Likuena lost 2-0 to Mada­gas­car and 2-0 against Swaziland be­fore scrap­ping 1-0 past Tan­za­nia but crashed out of the re­gional tour­na­ment in the group stage last month in South Africa — Likuena would have to win in Ad­dis Ababa Sta­dium to earn the re­spect of Ba­sotho once again.

The 2013/14 premier league player of the sea­son fur­ther said the COSAFA de­ba­cle had been a bit­ter pill to swal­low, but also a learn­ing curve for the play­ers.

“We have been work­ing hard as a team and prom­ise to do the coun­try proud in Ethiopia,” Pot­loane said.

“Things did not go well at the COSAFA tour­na­ment and we have since worked on our mis­takes af­ter learn­ing what our strong and weak points were.”

The midfielder has also called on the coun­try to con­tinue sup­port­ing them as they also want to win sil­ver­ware and not be an em­bar­rass­ment to Le­sotho.

“We, as play­ers, also have dreams, which is to qual­ify for ma­jor com­pe­ti­tions such as AF­CON and the World Cup, which Likuena have never done be­fore,” said Pot­loane.

“I can also as­sure you that morale is very high in camp and we are mo­ti­vated to do well not only against Ethiopia but the rest of the AF­CON qual­i­fiers against Al­ge­ria and the Sey­chelles.

“We need to qual­ify for both AF­CON and the African Na­tions Cham­pi­onship (CHAN), and we are all look­ing for­ward to these matches as we will be fac­ing Botswana next in the CHAN qual­i­fier (on 21 June at home and 5 July in Gaborone),” he said.

Pot­loane also said there would be no dis­trac­tions this time around since the Le­sotho Football As­so­ci­a­tion (LEFA) had re­solved the is­sue of play­ers’ al­lowances which was the source of dis­con­tent in the past.

“We have reached an agree­ment with LEFA and are sat­is­fied with what has been put on the ta­ble,” said Pot­loane.

LEFA sec­re­tary gen­eral, Mokhosi Mo­hapi, also said play­ers’ al­lowances had been in­creased from M150 to M200 a day.

Mo­hape added: “Prepa­ra­tions have been smooth, in­clud­ing for CHAN’S home match against Botswana and tick­ets will go on sale next week at M60 for the Grand Stand and M50 for the Open Stand.

“I can also con­firm that our team has re­ceived an in­vi­ta­tion to play Malawi af­ter CHAN’S sec­ond leg away to Botswana. How­ever, we will con­sider that with time.”

Mo­hapi also an­nounced that Likhopo striker Thapelo Tale would not be avail­able for Sun­day’s match due to in­jury.

“He still has an in­jury from the COSAFA tour­na­ment and will not make the trip to Ethiopia,” said Mo­hapi.

Mean­while, Matete be­lieves Le­sotho should beat Ethiopia in the first match to in­still the much-needed con­fi­dence among the play­ers. The vet­eran men­tor ad­mits Le­sotho’s Group J op­po­nents — Al­ge­ria, Ethiopia, and the Sey­chelles — are tricky cus­tomers that re­quire thor­ough plan­ning and sup­port from ev­ery stake­holder.

A to­tal of 52 teams, which have been di­vided into 13 groups, are tak­ing part in the qual­i­fiers with the pool-win­ners au­to­mat­i­cally qual­i­fy­ing for the fi­nal along­side hosts Gabon and two other teams with the best record. Should Le­sotho fail to win the pool, he wants Likuena to be one of the two teams that qual­ify due to an out­stand­ing record.

Matete told the Le­sotho Times’ sis­ter pub­li­ca­tion, the Sun­day Ex­press last week: “We had a ter­ri­ble time at last month’s COSAFA tour­na­ment in Rusten­burg, South Africa, and one of the rea­sons for that was be­cause we lost our first match against Mada­gas­car. That’s why it’s im­por­tant that we beat Ethiopia in the first qual­i­fier to give the boys the con­fi­dence they need as they go into the next match. We don’t want a re­peat of COSAFA, and I have em­pha­sised this to the team.

“We are in a tight group but the big­gest threat re­main Al­ge­ria who are ranked first on the con­ti­nent. That’s why we are hop­ing to at least fin­ish sec­ond in the group, but then again, football is football and al­ways full of sur­prises. So any­thing can hap­pen and we might end up top­ping the group and get­ting au­to­matic qual­i­fi­ca­tion to the 2017 AF­CON tour­na­ment in Gabon.”

How­ever, Matete also ad­mit­ted beat­ing Ethiopia—who won the AF­CON tour­na­ment on home soil in 1962, and were run­ners-up in 1957, third in 1959 and fourth in 1963 and 1968 but have be­come a pale shadow of their for­mer glo­ri­ous self—would not be easy. Although Ethiopia have been qual­i­fy­ing for the AF­CON tour­na­ment over the years, they have not been do­ing well, while Le­sotho have never been to the bi­en­nial show­case.

Matete said: “This will be a very im­por­tant and tough match for us be­cause we will be play­ing a good team, which is also hop­ing to col­lect max­i­mum points on home soil. That’s why I am say­ing we need to be com­pletely fo­cused on the job at hand and en­sure we get a pos­i­tive re­sult in Ad­dis Ababa.”

On his part, LEFA public re­la­tions of­fi­cer, Thabo Maret­lane, said the as­so­ci­a­tion was fully be­hind the coach de­spite the COSAFA em­bar­rass­ment.

“His man­date was to reach the semi­fi­nals at the COSAFA tour­na­ment but he also had to make sure the team qual­i­fied for CHAN (to be held in Rwanda next year),” Maret­lane said.

“It is there­fore only fair that we re­act once the team has played the other com­pe­ti­tion.

“We need to come to­gether and sup­port this team and make sure they do well.”

Mean­while, af­ter next Sun­day’s match, Le­sotho face Al­ge­ria at home on the week­end of 4-6 Septem­ber 2015 and Sey­chelles be­tween 23-26 March 2016 at home. Matete’s charges then play the re­verse ties against Sey­chelles be­tween 26-29 2016 away, Ethiopia on 3-5 June 2016 at home and wind-up their cam­paign away against Al­ge­ria on 2-4 Septem­ber 2016.

Likuena squad Goal­keep­ers: Mo­hau Kue­nane Kananelo Makhooane (Likhopo). De­fend­ers: Nkau Lerotholi (Mat­lama), Thapelo Mokhehle (Bantu), Jerry Kamele (Li­oli), Thabiso Mo­hapi (Bantu), Bokang Mothoana (Likhopo), Motiki Mo­hale (Lerotholi Poly­tech­nic). Mid­field­ers: Tšoanelo Koe­tle, Mot­lalepula Mo­folo, Te­boho Lekhooa, Bushy Mo­let­sane (all Li­oli), Hlom­pho Kalake (Bantu), Mabuti Pot­loane, Jane Tha­ban­tšo (both Mat­lama) Strik­ers: Litšepe Marabe (Bantu), Thabiso Brown (Kick­4life), Nkoto Ma­soabi (Li­oli), Tumelo Khut­lang (Likhopo).


…Na­tional team be­gins quest for AF­CON 2017

LIKUENA mid­field­ers Tsoanelo Koe­tle (left) and Mabuti Pot­loane. Likuena midfielder Bushy Mo­let­sane (left) pushes the ball as a Botswana player closes in dur­ing the COSAFA tour­na­ment.

Likuena coach Seep­hephe Matete.

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