Mathematically, senior national football team, Likuena, still has a chance of qualifying for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) to be held in Cameroon from January to February in 2022.
Likuena’s remains with two matches, one against Sierra Leone at home on March 22 and the other against Nigeria away from home on March 22. Likuena are rooted at a bottom of the Group L with just two points from four matches, and if by any chance the Lesotho team wins the remaining two matches it will end up with eight points.
But that doesn’t seem possible at all, given Likuena’s previous performances at the qualifiers, with just two draws and yet to taste victory.
The Group L current leaders, Nigeria, have already garnered eight points, with second-placed Benin one point behind (at seven points) and the third-placed Sierra Leone having collected three points.
It is just that Likuena doesn’t seem like throwing in the towel; they should have given up already. It is of course expected to be tough for Likuena to register even a single victory from the two matches, especially now that sports activities are still suspended in Lesotho – beginning last month due to the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, just weeks after resumption of the new football season following a similar suspension that was effected in March last year, forcing the abandonment of the year’s season.
This means most of the players who have just been called up to the Likuena provisional squad for the upcoming two AFCON ties totally lack match fitness.
Only a few of them are in better shape, those being Motebang Sera who is with Bloemfontein Celtic in the DSTV Premiership in South Africa, Tumelo Khutlang who plays for Black Leopards and Bokang Sello at Golden Arrows, also in the same DSTV Premiership.
Other players likely to be tasting competitive football at the moment are Nkoto Masoabi who has just been signed by Asswehly SC in the Libyan Premier League, Tšoarelo Bereng is with TS Sporting in the GladAfrica Championship in South Africa and Thabiso Brown with Pirata FC in Liga 2 in Peru. As coach Thabo Senong is yet to announce his final team for the Sierra Leone and Nigeria games, football experts’ opinions already differ on the best tactical approach ahead of the two encounters.
Former Likuena and Jomo Cosmos goalkeeper Motlalepula Sepipi’s big concern is the players’ fitness ahead of the two matches. “I am really concerned because to be honest COVID-19 has affected our football very much,” says Sepipi. “Match fitness is going to be a big problem for us and it is going to be so at the crucial moment when we desperately need maximum points after we did not perform well in the previous games.”
Sepipi says by the look of things, Senong is just assembling a team for the sake of having the final squad in order to honour the remaining fixtures at the end of the day – not to win. “There is nothing much to say about the Likuena squad because most the players there are inactive except those who play in South Africa. I think the coach is just trying to assemble a team that he is not sure about its performance,” Sepipi says.
Former Bantu coach, Caswell Moru, says Senong has made a good selection of players. However, he points out that Senong should not be put under pressure to beat Nigeria under prevailing conditions in which he has a team that has been inactive following the suspension of football due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “What is good about the current provisional squad is that there are no new players,” says Moru.
“All of them played for Likuena before and so as a coach you cannot say you saw something new that you want to try, but you are looking for the experience.” Moru further says: “And that’s a good selection he has made, again because he has selected a big squad and which is something that will help him as some of the players may delay to adjust while some may respond quickly.”
Moru further admits that it is true that the players’ fitness level is a big problem ahead of the two ties, but says these days coaches prepare training programmes for players to follow – and that’s the reason Senong wanted to have quite enough time with the players. He says what Senong has to do is build his team around players like Sera who is recently getting game time at Bloemfontein Celtic. Moru also says: “Yes, it is true that we are facing tough opponents like Nigeria and we cannot put Senong under pressure to beat the ‘Super Eagle’.
In the first leg, Nigeria beat Likuena 4-2 despite the latter playing at home venue, Setsoto Stadium. However, Moru says what is good about playing against big teams like Nigeria is that players themselves do not need motivation. “Playing against teams like Nigeria is on its own a big motivation to the players because they know that scouts are there to watch them.”
Former premier league player and current coach in the B-Division, Kenny Mohoanyane, says chances that Likuena could end up qualifying for the upcoming AFCON tournament are very slim. “Our chances of qualifying are very slim,” says Mohoanyane. “For Likuena to beat Nigeria away from home is not at all going to be possible, especially after Nigeria were recently held to a 4-4 draw by Sierra Leone.”
Mohoanyane says as a result, the Nigeria team is looking for crucial points in their game against Likuena. “This means Nigeria will be going all out to fight for those points, and their disadvantage is that we will be away from home against the very same team who beat us 4-2 at our home venue in the first leg tie.”
Mohoanyane says even if local football leagues were in full swing and the Nigerians league were the ones who were suspended, Likuena would still lose against Nigeria. “They would still have advantage over us, and so collecting points against Nigeria for me is out. We can just hope to collect points against Sierra Leone.”
Likuena managed to hold Sierra Leone to a 1-1 draw away from home in the two teams’ Group L qualifiers opening match on November 13, 2019. The following tie was a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Nigeria at Setsoto Stadium four days later. Likuena again lost to Benin (1-0) away from home on November 14, 2020, before playing to a goalless draw at home three days later.
Likuena full provisional squad:
Goalkeepers: Ntsane Lichaba, Sekhoane Moerane, Monaheng Ramalefane.
Defenders: Nkau Lerotholi, Motlomelo Mkwanazi, Basia Makepe, Lisema Lebokollane, Bokang Sello, Thabang Malane, Lesia Thetsane.
Midfielders: Tau Masiu, Tšepo Toloane, Tsoarelo Bereng, Thabo Lesaoana, Thabo Matšoele, Mokoteli Mohapi, Tumelo Ngatane, Lehlohonolo Fothoane, Litšepe Marabe, Neo Mokhachane, Tumelo Khutlang, Jane Thabantšo, Jane Tšotleho, Hlompho Kalake, Luciano Matsoso.
Strikers: Tšepo Seturumane, Nkoto Masoabi, Motebang Sera, Morapeli Lesoetsa, Thabiso Brown.