How Likuena lost Sihlangu plot


Following two straight victories over Malawi, Mauritius


Though Likuena’s victories over Malawi and Mauritius were not convincing, at the end of the day the two wins enhanced the Lesotho team’s chances of going beyond the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) Cup group stage better than any of their opponents in Group B. Likuena won the two games with the same score margin, 2-1 in each game.

The Lesotho team conceded a late goal against Malawi after leading 2-0, scoring in both the first and second half. It was a total different ball game against Mauritius as Likuena came from 1-nil down to win the tie 2-1, also scoring a goal in each half. But Likuena could not repeat the same feat against eSwatini; ‘Sihlangu Simnikati’ beat them 2-0, scoring both goals in the first half.

Likuena needed a draw to advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament compared to eSwatini who needed a win in order to proceed to the next stage of the competition since only the group winners would book a place to the last eight. One of the local coaches, Bahlakoana Mohoanyane, believes that generally Likuena performed well at this year’s COSAFA tournament. Mohoanyane said this was despite failing to plan well for the eSwatini game and also for over-confidence following their two successive victories ahead of their last group match.

“Generally, Likuena performed well,” said Mohoanyane. “They were a team with a clear structure and some football aspects which any footballer could notice.” Mohoanyane said the performance which Likuena displayed at the ongoing COSAFA Cup was evidently the way coach Veselin Jelusic wants them to play going forward. “Their performance gave us a clear football identify as a country,” he said.

“That is to say I see the progress. You can see what coach Veselin is trying to do and that it is going to benefit us as a country in future.” Mohoanyane said all in all Likuena played well because they won the first and second game, which he said is what any team must do at any competitive tournament. He said Likuena were out to win and they did win and that losing against Eswatini did not mean they were a poor team. Mohoanyane said, instead, Likuena lost to eSwatini just because they were over confident.

“According to me, our boys were over confident, which is a good thing for any team because you need confidence and team spirit.” “We have seen a team spirit and confidence in the boys. But against eSwatini they were over confident. I also think we failed to plan for the eSwatini game from the drawing board or in the technical room.” Matlama midfielder, Thabo Matšoele, is not surprised that Likuena could not go beyond the group stage of the tournament.

Matšoele, who was part of Likuena in the recent past, said there were just a few best performers to single out from the squad. “There are few players to single out when it comes to best performance such as Mkwanazi Mkwanazi as a right back, Katleho Makateng and others.” Mkwanazi further said: “According to me, we did not really play well. We always looked as if we were the underdogs although we were not.”

Matšoele said the way Likuena played was far from the approach to win the tournament. “The tournament itself needed us to play an open game and possess the ball because that’s where I believe we are strong.” Matšoele further said: “I can’t say we were really winning. It’s just that luck was always on our side.” Likuena, Matšoele said, were rather always forced to defend. “We were always forced to defend low and defending low always consumes a lot of energy.”

Matšoele said because most of the players who were selected for the COSAFA Cup were the same players selected for the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) group qualifiers, one would expect a better showing in the regional tournament. “Having used the same squad that we are using at the AFCON qualifiers, I thought we were going to express ourselves and dominate each and every game. We won two games but we were not convincing. Yes, for real we can be happy as a country for the two wins because it’s been a while without winning but still I wasn’t satisfied with our play.”

Matšoele said the eSwatini game was a disaster. He blamed Jelusic for not utilising Jane Thabantšo’ experience, amongst others. Thabantšo came on as a substitute in the game against Mauritius and eSwatini. He scored a winning goal when Likuena came from a 1-nil down to beat Mauritius 2-1 last Friday. “You can’t put Thabantšo on the bench. He is one of the best consistent players I have ever known. He needs to start because he always performs well and score goals. He is clinical in front of the poles.”

Matšoele said eSwatini’s determination to win last Sunday’s match was very clear from the onset. He said this was while one could not say the same thing about Likuena who were more focused on defending than anything because they just needed a draw. “According to me, the best way to defend or waste time is to attack. We (Likuena) failed to secure a point because we put it in our heads that we needed a draw. But if we played to win we could have got a draw.”

This was the second time in a row that Likuena lost to eSwatini in the same tournament after a 3-1 loss to the latter at the 2019 COSAFA Cup, also in the group stage. This year’s COSAFA tournament kicked-off on July 5 and will end this Sunday. Likuena are yet to win the COSAFA Cup. Their best performance in the competition was reaching the final in 2000 where they lost 6-0 to Zimbabwe on aggregate following a 3-0 loss home and away, respectively, as was the tournament’s format in those years.

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