|Likuena... Time to shine|
It is the worst draw we could have had.
Even African champions Zambia on the first day would have been better.
Ghana, at home, in Kumasi – a football-mad city – is a daunting task if there ever was one.
Add to that, the Black Stars are still smarting from their supposed 2012 Africa Cup of Nations under-performance and, looking to redeem themselves, are hell-bent on qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. No doubt then, Ghana will regard Lesotho as the best possible opposition to get off to a flying start.
Fifa’s rankings would certainly support this notion. Ghana is ranked second in Africa and 22nd in the world while Lesotho is 43rd on the continent and 163rd worldwide. Lesotho’s last sojourn into Fifa’s World Cup qualifiers in 2008, meanwhile, didn’t go so well. Six games, six losses, two goals scored and 18 conceded was Lesotho’s rather depressing rap sheet.
So, is there any hope for Likuena?
There is always hope.
One thing I would start by saying is Likuena’s players have to view this World Cup qualifying campaign as a once in a lifetime chance to be noticed, and thus hopefully advance their football careers.
The fact Steve Komphela, coach of South African Premiership side Free State Stars, was reportedly in attendance during last Wednesday’s friendly against Botswana is testament to the fact that throughout this six-game campaign, which starts tomorrow and ends next September, interested eyes will be peeled on matches involving Lesotho.
Ghana for sure is a renowned team with several players currently being chased by the biggest clubs in the world – Kwadwo Asamoah, reportedly coveted by English giants Manchester United, is a prime example. It is therefore not far-fetched to assume representatives of the world’s top club sides will either be in Kumasi tomorrow evening, or at least watching the Black Stars-Likuena showdown wherever it will be broadcast.
For Lesotho’s players then, this is an opportunity to hijack the world’s attention. For Bokang Mothoana for example, who until recently was a regular in North Africa’s top leagues, this is a chance to perhaps make the breakthrough across the pond to Europe.
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That is the first motivation.
The second is to make history.
Tomorrow’s game will no doubt be a physical one.
Speaking to Likuena coach Leslie Notši a while back, he spoke of how tough Lesotho’s last visit to Ghana was. On that occasion, another World Cup qualifier, the score was 3-0 to the Black Stars in a match played in Accra in 2008. Likuena’s opponents were quick and strong, and furthermore, tried to intimidate Lesotho, Notši, then an assist to Zavisa Milosavljević, said.
This is to be expected.
It is the way in Africa – it is not only the survival of the fittest but of the bravest.
Likuena’s players have to be prepared for this facet of the game.
Nevertheless, regardless of their physical prowess, home advantage and various other perceived positives in Ghana’s favour, there are factors that put the hosts in a disadvantageous position.
Ghana simply hasn’t had a lot of game time since February’s Afcon. This will be the first game under new coach Kwesi Appiah and added to that, Ghana only started training last Monday.
There is an opportunity here.
Although Lesotho’s recent results have sapped confidence, losing to Sao Tome in January and last week’s 3-0 loss to Botswana, one peculiar phenomenon is that Lesotho’s performances away have generally been ‘better’ than those at home. Burundi last November and the 2009 Cosafa Senior Challenge in Zimbabwe immediately spring to mind. This was also true of Notši’s giant-killing Makoanyane XI side which went unbeaten away from home, disposing of Kenya and South Africa along the way, en route to qualifying for last year’s Caf African Youth Championship.
Yes, last week’s 3-0 loss to Botswana has raised eyebrows, but lessons will have been learned.
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Tactically Notši will no doubt change things up a bit. Whether that means a compact counterattacking approach or tit-for-tat chess, Ghana’s squad looks like it can be rattled a bit. By freshening up the Black Stars squad – Appiah handed out call-ups to seven debutants and nine local based players to his preliminary group – the new Ghana coach has also left his side exposed to potential frailties.
Even though Ghana’s final 24-man squad announced on Saturday is predominantly filled with European players, experienced names such as Andre Ayew, Michael Essien, Asamoah Gyan, John Mensah and John Paintsil amongst others are conspicuous by their absence.
The fact Ghana is expecting a win means the longer tomorrow’s game goes without the realisation of this reality, the more restless the crowd and therefore team will get. Lest we forget, the pressure is all on Ghana; and Lesotho can use this to its advantage in the hope of causing an upset.
But for any of this to come to fruition calm heads on the side of Lesotho will be needed. Likuena simply can’t afford to go down to ten men like they did last week against Botswana. Discipline is vital.
To finish off; Lesotho’s players just have to believe that anything is possible.
Life is too short for what ifs. Every time you step out onto a football field, especially for your nation, immortality always awaits.