Makoanyane XI’s forgotten star



Born Sefuli Ntoi, the player who would come to be known as ‘Benin’, burst onto the both the national and continental football scene in 2005 – as a key component of Makoanyane XI, Lesotho’s Under-20 national team that blasted its way into the year’s African Youth Championship.

This was the first ever feat of this magnitude in the country’s football history. The 2005 championship was played between January 15 and 29 hosted by Benin, the tournament also served as qualification for the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship.

And sporting the No 7 jersey Ntoi earned the moniker ‘Benin’ during qualification games to the championships; local football journalists and commentators affectionately called him by the name looking at his determination, skill and commitment towards Makoanyane XI’s campaign.

The diminutive midfielder had previously made Makoanyane XI’s jersey No 8 his ahead of the qualification games, but was forced to surrender the number after the national team qualified for the competition. He had to wear jersey No 7.

This after teammate, Tefo ‘Chico’ Maipato, asked for permission to wear the number. “He requested to wear the number, and I remember that the team managers asked me if I had any problem relinquishing the jersey to ‘Chico’,” recalls Ntoi.

“That’s basically what happened. I still remember that it was exactly after we qualified for the Benin tournament.”

Even though Ntoi can’t remember who used to don the No 7 jersey that he ended up wearing, but he says he didn’t have any problem of changing the number (No 8) despite having at the time had a bond with and liked it.

“We talked about it as a team and I agreed to give it to Tefo Maipato. That happened easily because we were like a family in that team, having played together for a long time, and above all, we understood each other,” he says.

Ntoi was a promising youngster from the youthful FC Likhopo, a marvel to watch taking on opponents from the midfield. The nickname ‘Benin’ emerged and stuck as the team’s performance at the time left no doubt that were headed for the Benin tournament. The team has earned the reputation as the most formidable Makoanyane XI side ever.

But to the surprise of many who followed local football, Ntoi, 38, says he does not know that the local football fraternity called him ‘Benin’.

Ntoi’s contribution in the team saw Makoanyane XI making it to the Benin African Youth Championship at the expense of the South African Under-20 side ‘Amajita’ and Zimbabwe through the away rule goal following a 2-2 goal-aggregate after a 2-1 loss away and a 1-0 victory home and a 3-0 goal-aggregate following a goalless draw away and a 3-0 win home respectively.

“Our commitment and patriotism really worked for us, and of course knocking both South Africa and Zimbabwe out of the competition is still something to reminisce about even today,” Ntoi ruminates. He played alongside local stars Katleho Moleko, Motlalepula Mofolo and Bokang ‘Lefty’ Mothoana, amongst others.

At the tournament in Benin, Makoanyane XI were pitted against Egypt, Morocco and Angola in Group B where they finished on third spot above Angola as the last team on the four-team group log table, with Morocco and Egypt topping the group on second and first positions respectively.

The team, under the guidance of Seepheephe ‘Mochini’ Matete as head coach, lost 2-0 to Morocco before beating Angola 2-1 with goals from Dlomo Monaphathi and Mothoana in the 40 and 45th minutes respectively. But they lost the following game 4-1 to Egypt, with a consolation goal scored by Lintle Kori from the penalty spot.

Ntoi still remembers and cherishes the fact that he played at the same tournament with international football stars like John Obi Mikel of Nigeria, amongst the many star players that emerged from the Benin games.

The Nigerian team, which was pitted in Group A against Ivory Coast, Mali and the hosts Benin, went all the way to win the tournament as – beating Egypt 2-0 in the final.

“In Benin, we were together with players like Obi Mikel of Nigeria. We also played against many of the renowned players in the qualifiers, such as Senzo Meyiwa (the late South African Orlando Pirates goalkeeper) Lebohang Mokoena, Junior Khanye, Buti Sethole, Nhlanhla Tshabalala and Daine Klate, also from neighbouring South Africa.”

But whilst this interaction in the pitch could be viewed as the highlight of Ntoi’s playing career, he most cherishes winning the Vodacon Soccer Spectacular with FC Likhopo in his first season with the club.

“Amongst my greatest memories as a player was winning the Vodacom Soccer Spectacular in my first season with FC Likhopo. I would say the teamwork made it easy for us to achieve that, and of course on top of that was the fact that we loved our team.”

The late Motlatsi Shale was at the time in charge of FC Likhopo as head coach. Ntoi, who became part and parcel of the Makoanyane XI team where he also played at the COSAFA Under-20 Championships several times, hung up his soccer boots at the age of 32.

He was at the time playing for Kick4Life FC, where he spent two seasons. He joined the Police Europa-based side after spending four seasons with Likhopo.

“I would have loved to end my playing career playing for any of the South African teams but that has failed to happen; and I am now 38-years-old,” he says.

Ntoi started playing football as a young boy. He was eight-years-old when he played for Botha-Bothe Fast XI development team. “I grew up in Botha-Bothe at my mother’s home, and that’s where I started playing football as a youngster. We used to play as curtain raisers every time Botha-Bothe Fast XI played at home.”

Ntoi, who hails was from Ha Lebini, Teyateyaneng (TY), in Berea, eventually came back home and was very fortunate as his family in TY also loved football.

“I was raised in families that loved football. Even when I moved from Botha-Bothe to TY I also found people who loved the game very much. My uncle Ralikeleko Ntoi made sure that I always had a ball to play.” Ntoi’s uncle was a football player. “He was playing for a team called Berea Cosmos,” Ntoi says.

Ntoi’s coach while he was playing for a youngsters’ development team in Botha-Bothe was former Lesotho Correctional Services FC player, Sidwell Mothea. He left the Mothea’s side to join Mabothile Youngsters in the B-Division, still in Botha-Bothe, before coming back to TY.

“I played for Mabothile Youngsters from 1991 until 1995. Then I came to TY in 1996 where I joined Berea Cosmos.” At Berea Cosmos, who were also campaigning in the B-Division, Ntoi was mentored by Nkiti Tokonya as the team’s coach.

Ntoi was then spotted by football scout by Chelsea FC boss, the late Sello Matete, when he was a Form A student at high school. Chelsea, now defunct, campaigned in Lesotho’s top-flight league. “I spent three years at Chelsea and from there I joined Lifefo FC in the premier league, where I spent two years and then moved to Majantja in mohale’s Hoek.” Ntoi spent another four seasons at Majantja and from there he joined FC Likhopo.










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