MASERU – Likuena’s 4-0 loss at the hands of the hosts Bafana Bafana on Tuesday sealed the elimination of Leslie Notsi charges elimination from the on-going Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) Cup. That was Likuena’ straight 4-0 second loss in a row after last Saturday’ shocking defeat at the hands of Botswana’s Zebras with the very same margin.
The two defeats came after Likuena surprised all and sundry when they came from 1-nil down to beat Zambia’s Chipolopolo 2-1, just two days after the Lesotho team succumbed to Eswatini who beat it 3-1, to the disappointment of many local football fans.Despite beating Chipolopolo, who went on to lose to Eswatini in their second tie of the Group A before beating Zebras 2-1 on Tuesday, Likuena’s overall performance was bad on the whole. Football experts, however, have different views on Likuena’s poor performance at the COSAFA Cup.
Retšelisitsoe Lephaila, former Lioli and FC Likhopo coach, said it is already going to be a challenging task for Notsi and his new technical team who had to take over after Coach Thabo Senong who resigned a few days before the COSAFA Cup kick-off. “In the first place, the resignation of Thabo Senong a few days before the tournament was actually a big blow for us,” said Lephaila in an interview with Public Eye on Wednesday.
Senong resigned after he assembled the team to a camp for the COSAFA tournament, and Lephaila said that put much pressure to the interim coach and his new technical team. “Unfortunately, interim coaches did not have enough time and also did not have an opportunity to select players they would have liked to have in the team for the tournament as the same squad was the one selected by Senong. “So, honestly speaking, it would be unfair of us to judge Coach Leslie Notsi and Shalane Lehohla by the current performance of the team.”
Lephaila stressed that people should not at all put blame on Notsi and Lehohla since they were roped in very late to replace Senong. “However, I suspect that Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) was very much aware that Senong was likely to resign anytime. That was not a surprise at all. “I still believe and maintain that Senong sat down with them (LeFA officials) and tried to negotiate them and agree terms.”
Lephaila further said: “But all in all, according to me, we have a lot of problems. “As an example, we went to the COSAFA Cup with a lot of imbalance in the team.” Speaking about the imbalance, Lephaila said the best goalkeepers were left out of the team. These are the likes of Matlama’s Monaheng Ramalefane and Bantu’s Ntsane Lichaba, among others.
“Those are our top goalkeepers but I don’t know why they were left out and, instead, the coaches preferred Likano Mphuthi who I know was inactive for a very long time because of an injury and a young goalkeeper from Lioli, Jessie Matsie, whose inclusion as a backup to give hime exposure for the future I don’t have a problem with, however.
“But coming to our backline, we have called up the LMPS FC defenders because of their experience. Honestly speaking, however, I think for players such like Nkau (Lerotholi) and others, their time has expired in international football.”
Lephaila, who is also the former Lesotho Under-17 national team assistant coach, said instead of calling up the same players who were tested before and failed, Likuena coaches could have tried new players such like Matlama’s evergreen defender, Rethabile ‘Shamingo’ Mokokoane. “I think we could have called up players such like Shamingo. “Shamingo is a young player but with a hug potential and is brave. He is technically good and his tactical awareness is much better.”
Lephaila said this was apart from the fact that other people may doubt Mokokoane merely because of discipline. “But I still think he should have been part of the Likuena squad to the COSAFA Cup so that we could have started grooming him. “Secondly, still on the same issue of defence, I don’t know why our national team coaches played Rethabile Rasethuntša as a left-back while at his team he plays as a centre-back and plays well.”
Lephaila further said: “So I have realised that we have problems. We were so depleted, especially at the centre-back and most of the mistakes which we made were in defence.” Lephaila said that was despite the fact that Likuena coaches tried to play with the defenders who plays together for the same team (LMPS defenders duo of Nkau Lerotholi and Basia Makepe).
“This is an indication that our level of football is not up to the standard. “So all in all, our selection of players was not good. We cannot call up players like Nkau and others, and leave out players like Hlompho Kalake. For example, if we wanted to change, why were players like Nkau and others still part of the team.”
Lephaila said for a very long time, those tried and tested players have cost Likuena. He also questioned the exclusion of LCS FC anchor, Tumelo Ngatane, from the Likuena squad. Ngatane was part of Likuena before, under the guidance of Senong. In fact, Senong was the first coach to call up Ngatane to the senior team, who was at the time playing for the then A Division side and now the Premier League rookies, Manonyane FC.
“Honestly speaking, I don’t know why we left out Ngatane because you will realise that we ended up having Lisema Lebokollane as our only anchor, and ended up having a problem when Lisema had to switch to a defensive position. Lephaila further said: “Because even Tšepo Toloane is not an outright anchor. But it’s just that we like to convert them and my problem is this tendency of converting players while they play different positions at their teams, compared to the ones they play at the national team.
“I don’t understand it at all, because we have players who are performing well in their respective teams in the very same positions that our national team coaches are unnecessarily converting players to play.” But again, Lephaila reiterated that he did not blame the Likuena technical team for the poor performance of the team because it did not have time to select the players they would have preferred for the national team.
He said, instead, the blame should be shifted LeFA. “I don’t blame the technical team. I still believe if they had enough time they could have selected their preferred players and probably the ones they trusted. “So, honestly speaking, I think our problem is LeFA. I don’t think LeFA tries enough. They make many mistakes which I think going forward they need to introspect themselves, being President Salemane Phafane and his committee.”
Lephaila also said what corrupted Lesotho’s football is the criterion used in electing members of the District Football Associations (DiFAs) He said some of those officials within the DiFAs don’t understand football administration at all, except very few of them and added that it seemed to be LeFA’s strategy to keep out people who know. “With due respect, those other people are just there for the sake of being there. They don’t make any impact as far as football is concerned.”
Lephaila further said: “Let us be honest, if we want to develop our football we have to compare our national football executives with those of other countries and see what kind of people are serving in their committees.” But Lephaila said because LeFA officials have their own agenda, they would not do so, simply because they don’t want football people to be part of such committees.
“But because they don’t want people who have expertise, they would not do so. They would rather make sure that they get rid of them.” Lephaila said testimony of what he is talking about is that LeFA suspended football experts like Teele Ntšonyona. “Because Teele Ntšonyana is very vocal, the minute he voices his concern he is suspended and I also know that after this interview I may not be in good books with the LeFA officials. “But I don’t care. I don’t depend on football, I have my own job.”
On the other hand, Bantu coach Atang ‘Bob’ Mafosa said: “We need to appreciate the positives that we got from this tournament. “About four players were capped at this year’s COSAFA Cup, namely; Thabiso Mari, Jessie Matsie, Tumelo Makha and Koete Mohloai.” Mafoso said the exposure and experience that the quartet got from the COSAFA Cup is very decisive for their football career and the country.
“The exposure and experience, the tournament culture and international exposure is what cannot be taken away from them. “We also played all the players that were picked. We have scored goals from standard situations and on transitions. Mafoso further said: “We played without fear when we had the ball. We attacked with freedom and were confident on the ball.” The Bantu mentor said Likuena had a great game against Eswatini despite the fact that they ended up losing that encounter.
“We had a great game against Eswatini; maybe we used all our energy in that game, especially with one man down. But we kept the ball well even when we were one man down. “Remember, we also come from a situation where our players are playing three games in about seven days so probably with our first game being our best game though we did lose might mean we were beginning to drop physically.”
Mafoso also said: “We conceded about three goals from open play and this is seen in our local leagues where players on the ball are given ample spaces. It is an aspect that we as coaches at club level need to improve to help the national team. Likuena have, as a result, crashed out of the COSAFA Cup, with just one victory over Chipolopolo and lost in three games, against Eswatini, Zebras and Bafana Bafana. Likuena’s best performance at the tournament was when they reached the final in 2000.