Cup offers new hope
Continental tournament brings improved performances
n this summer’s COSAFA Cup – an annual tournament for national teams from southern Africa – Lesotho showed tantalising signs of improvement after a dismal recent run. They won all three group games, only to lose on penalties in the quarter-finals to neighbours South Africa, after a poor African Nations Cup qualifying campaign and elimination from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers in the first round.
Although Lesotho have never featured in a major tournament, several of the side from the 1990s did play professionally in South Africa, but these days very few manage to ply their trade abroad.
One of those who does is Sunny Jane, who plays for Richmond Kickers in the USA third-tier and scored for Lesotho in a 2-1 Nations Cup qualifying win over Seychelles in March. However, club commitments saw the 25-year-old striker miss the COSAFA Cup.
Jane was one of four players taken to play college football in the US by Louisville City assistant coach Thabane Sutu, who was a member of the Lesotho side that beat Cameroon 2-0 in qualifying for the 1996 Nations Cup before a row over wages saw key players side-lined and the team pull out of the tournament.
“The same problem persists,” explains Sutu. “Some teams we used to beat handily when I was playing have caught up with us or even surpassed us. Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, Angola, are definitely ahead of us. We used to beat these nations very easily in the 1990s.
“The biggest problem is we don’t really have any corporate sponsorships or involvement, so our players are still part-timers.
“Our league standards have plummeted. l don’t think our level of coaching is on par with the rest of the continent. We’ve got a long, long way to go.”
But Leslie Notsi, who coached Lesotho from 2011 to 2013, is slightly more optimistic, arguing: “It is possible for Lesotho to qualify for an African Cup of Nations, but a lot of things has to happen.
“We need most of our players playing outside Lesotho so they can bring experience, consistency and confidence to the team.
“The [domestic] Premier League has to turn professional, or at least semi-professional, and the league has to have more cup games in all divisions to give the players more game time to improve the standard of the game.”
After a spell in South Africa, Notsi is back in Lesotho working for Kick4Life (K4L), which is a charity that also fields a Premier League team.
The league has 14 teams, with Lioli – whose president, Lebohang Thotanyana, is also minister for mining – are traditionally the strongest, and only clubs connected to the state – army, police and correctional services – have full-time players, who are essentially civil servants.
Founded in 2005 by brothers Steve and Pete Fleming, K4L subsequently bought out second-tier side Little Flower and currently share the national stadium with Lioli. K4L combines social work, notably aids awareness, with football and is working with the Lesotho Football Association on a GOAL project application to FIFA to build a stadium, with two artificial pitches and purpose-built HIV testing laboratories by 2017.
“People will be able to come and watch matches and get tested,” explains K4L FC director Chris Bullock.
As for the playing side of things, Bullock readily admits: “The problem is that there are players of talent but they have never had the right level of coaching and were missing the basic techniques.
“Our idea is that a good percentage will get scholarships in the United States, or play at a high level in South Africa or Lesotho and get professional contracts.”