Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Lesotho through to Cosafa Cup semi-finals

Lesotho        1
Angola         1
(Lesotho wins 5-3 on penalties)

Kitwe, Zambia

Lesotho is through to the Cosafa Cup semi-finals for the first time since 2000 after a penalty shootout win over Angola today. Likuena, in truth, should have wrapped the game up a lot earlier. but poor finishing let them down.

Thankfully, though, Leslie Notši’s side held their nerve in the shootout to seal a highly enjoyable win.
Lesotho goal-scorer Thapelo Tale battles with Angola's
Antonio Nzayinawo
Lesotho will now face Zimbabwe next. However, along with sweating over the fitness of attacking duo Thapelo Tale and Litsepe Marabe, Notši has a strike-force to fix over the next two days.

That was the main storyline of today’s game unfortunately taking some of the gloss off what was a pleasingly assured performance by Lesotho.

The prolificacy in front of goal started as early as the 11th minute when Motlalepula Mofolo, with time and space, volleyed straight at the keeper.

Inevitably (as is the football gods’ way) Angola took the lead on 24 minutes, against the run of play, when Cristovao Paciencia hit a long-range stunner after a miscue by Nkau Lerotholi. The defender’s uncharacteristic error was characteristic of Likuena’s sloppy start filled with misplaced passes and heavy touches.

Lesotho recovered well, through, and that was undoubtedly due to the confidence gained from their super 3-all comeback against Botswana and the seven goals scored in three group games. The midfield, marshalled by Ralekoti Mokhahlane and Mofolo, began to grab a foothold of the game and wingers Litšepe Marabe and Katleho Moleko found life.

Although Lesotho were out-powered physically, by keeping the ball better they began to nullify this disadvantage and Bushy Moletsane’s 30th minute snap shot on was a sign of the changing tide.

Lesotho was rewarded in the 42nd minute when Moleko, who had been Lesotho’s most enterprising player, skilfully drifted infield and his through ball was tucked in by Thapelo Tale.

The timing goal changed the psychology of the game.

After the break Lesotho were mightily assured, stroking the ball around with confidence and patience. This retreated Angola into a shell, making their physicality in the final third a less of a threat.

Tale had two glorious chances, hitting the crossbar with one, before his replacement Lehlomela Ramabele did the same with virtually the last kick of the game.

That Lesotho found their shooting boots in the penalty shootout shouldn’t distract from the hard work that needs to be done on finishing, not just by Likuena over the next couple of days, but here at home.

Lesotho’s impressive showing at this Cosafa Cup is maybe a sign Notši’s vision is coming together. Perhaps this tournament will give impetus to his plans.

Consider this: today’s match was Lesotho’s seventh this year, the most since 2009. It’s fair to say some of Lesotho rusty performances since Notši took over in 2011 are down to the fact his players don’t play enough games together as a national team and at club level.

Last year Lesotho had four competitive internationals, in 2011 it was two.

This year, however, been two World Cup qualifiers (Zambia and Ghana), a high-profile friendly against South Africa and four games here in Zambia. It’s the kind of quality practice Notši hasn’t been afforded since taking over charge of the team, the kind of run that gives a coach a chance to build his team.

Hopefully, then, there can be more matches for Likuena to play. It’s vital.

My ball!
Likuena's Thabo Masualle and Angola's Mario Manuel de Oliveira
For now the focus is the Cosafa Cup and carrying this run as far as possible.

This is now Lesotho’s best performance in the tournament since 2000 when Lesotho reached the final before losing to Zimbabwe. On Wednesday Zimbabwe will again stand in the way of a possible Lesotho fairytale… but this is 2013!

Cosafa Cup semi-finals
Wednesday, 17 July
Zimbabwe v Lesotho (17:00)
South Africa v Zambia (20:00)

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