MASERU – Both the defending champions Bantu and Matlama will battle it out for a good cause tomorrow as they have so much at stake with just three premier league games to go each.
The two teams have been bitter rivals for over a decade and whenever they meet, each’s reputation is at stake. But the upcoming match is currently one of the most crucial ones in the local football calendar.
Each side is expected to deliver and, with the stakes this high, anything can happen when the two nemeses meet before an anticipated huge crowd at Setsoto Stadium.
Even the fans themselves are expecting an epic encounter as the outcome of the match will determine the direction of the league.
At the moment, Tse-Putsoa are at the top of the log while A-Mats’o-Matebele are on position two.
Matlama have 56 points, five points ahead of Bantu, collected from 23 matches apiece.
In the first round, Bantu beat Matlama 1-0 at the start of the run in with numerous games left to play, but now the Saturday’s match is the end of crucial and testing season and the trick is each should not lose.
Apart from the Saturday match, Bantu still have two other games against arch-rivals Lioli and Sefothafotha on May 11 and May 18 respectively (both away).
For their part, the Sea-Point-based outfit has to meet Sefothafotha on May 11 and Linare on May 18, both at home.
In fact, even the weekend decisive league match is like a home game for Matlama despite Bantu being the hosts at the national stadium which is located a stone’s throw from Sea-Point.
But on the other hand, Bantu have used the national stadium to host some of their biggest games like the match tie for instance.
The Mafeteng-based outfit beat Matlama 1-0 in the first round at the same venue.
But Matlama will definitely feel more at home than their hosts, after all they will be playing in their own backyard.
There is no doubt that Bantu would love to take the game to another venue because Matlama already have a home ground advantage over them.
That being said, Bantu have collected a lot of money from gate-takings at the stadium when they host most of the major teams in the league with a huge fan base.
So, tomorrow’s match being the only premier league game held this weekend will undoubtedly see Bantu making a sizeable collection from the gate-takings.
The match has all the signs of a game of inches given that both teams have so much at stake and a lot to prove.
“This is a game that is going to decide which team will win the league title,” said Bantu coach James Madidilane in an interview with Public Eye on Monday.
“Even our preparation will be special because this is definitely going to be a special match.”
Madidilane was, however, apprehensive about some of his key players who picked injuries in their last game against LCS last Saturday at the same stadium.
But he could not be drawn to give the names of his charges on injury list, saying he did not want his opponents to know his starting line-up ahead of the match.
“That way, they will have an idea of how I am planning to structure both my attack and defence mechanisms, so I want them to meet the team on the pitch on Saturday not any time before then, lest they know how well to prepare for them.
“But quite honestly, LCS have caused a huge dent in my team. Some of my key players are out because of injuries they picked against them (LCS). These are my regular players who have a lot of experience against all teams in the league.”
Madidilane further said: “But when all is said and done, we have nothing major to lose. We just need the three points.”
He said they only wish to finish the league on a high note while Matlama, on the other hand, are under immense pressure to win all their remaining games to ensure that they win the league trophy.
“And to finish the league on a high note we also need to win all our remaining games,” Madidilane said.
If Matlama win all their remaining games, they are guaranteed to win the league title as they would finish the campaign with 65 points while Bantu would end the season with a maximum of 60.
Madidilane admitted, however, that their Lioli and Sefothafotha games would not be a walk in the park the same way that the upcoming Matlama match is not one.
“The Lioli and Sefothafotha matches will not be easy at all, but with good preparation all will be possible.”
He further said: “Being the defending champions you have to go all out. But it’s all going to depend on our preparation.”
Madidilane is talking differently now after the 1-0 win over LCS last Saturday in another tough tie for the defending champions.
Prior to that, he had talked like a man who was ready to throw in the towel as he could see any light at the end of the tunnel.
But Hlompho Kalake’s late strike appears to have revitalised the coach’s hope of defending the league.
Matlama coach Thabile Secker said his charges were more than ready to meet Bantu head on.
“I am confident to announce that our preparation for the Bantu match has very good and the players are clearly determined to go all out to win,” Secker said.
He added: “This is a crucial game, if we wish to win the title, we have to do everything right on the field on. Saturday to win the game. It is true they beat us in the first leg, but we know where we went wrong.”
Secker said the beating at the hands of Bantu helped them recognise both their weaknesses and strengths.
“Since we lost that game, we have been watching their games (Bantu’s) like never before to closely study how they play.”