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Friday, December 15, 2017

Lesotho’s defence the key to making history in COSAFA Under-20 final

The Makoanyane XI stand on verge of history...
Lesotho faces South Africa in the final of the 2017 Mopani Copper Mines COSAFA Under-20 Championships on Saturday.

It will be the furthest Lesotho’s has gone at the regional youth showpiece since reaching the final in 2005 when the Makoanyane XI lost 1-0 to Madagascar in the decider. 

That team was driven by the likes of Tefo Maipato, Ralekoti Mokhahlane, Bokang Mothoana and Dlomo Monapathi and is still widely regarded as the golden generation of Lesotho football.

Leslie Notši’s charges, however, have a chance to outdo that heralded group and create history when they take the field at the Nkana Stadium in Kitwe to face South Africa’s Amajita.

Overall, it is the third time Lesotho will be in the final two. The Kingdom finished second to Zimbabwe in 1990 when it hosted the tournament.

This 2017 side, though, was not expected to go this far in this tournament, especially after losing 5-0 to South Africa in a warm-up match a week before the start of the competition.

But, Leslie Notši has worked his magic again.

Notši, of course, famously led Lesotho’s Under-20 side to the 2011 African Championship which remains one of only two times the country has competed at a continental tournament – the other being in 2005 at the same competition with that golden Makoanyane XI side.

Notši then took over as national coach where he paved the way for Lesotho to reach its highest-ever FIFA ranking of 105 in the world in August 2014.

Recently at club level he waved his magic wand again by masterminding Kick4Life’s outstanding fourth place finish in the league last season. So, given his track record, we possibly should have known Notši and his assistant Bob Mafoso had some tricks up their sleeves when they took charge of the Makoanyane XI for this tournament.

But, even they probably wouldn’t have envisaged that Lesotho would be here – waiting expectantly on the eve of the COSAFA Under-20 final, with a chance to write history.
South Africa face Lesotho after beating Egypt in the semis...
The key match-up
The key to Lesotho’s progress has been the team’s defence which has conceded just once in four games at the tournament.

Still, thanks to that loss 5-0 loss to South Africa before the competition, the Makoanyane XI go into the final as heavy underdogs.

That will suit Notši just fine, though.

What Notši’s teams have always been – and as has been the case again at this tournament – are well-drilled units that are firm in defence and are efficient with the few chances they get.

That Lesotho is in the final despite only scoring to goals in four matches is classic Notši.

So, when looking for Lesotho’s key to success in the final, the first place to look is the defence.

It has been excellent and what has helped Notši is that he quickly settled on a first-choice defence with Matlama’s John Mohai, Likhopo’s Seeiso Lerotholi, Majantja’s Liteboho Nkune and Kick4Life’s Mokoteli Mohapi being ever-presents in the team during the tournament.

Behind them Matlama goalkeeper Monaheng Ramalefane has been equally brilliant in marshalling the defence. He has come to the rescue on numerous occasions and was chosen as man of the match in the ultimately decisive goalless draw with Zimbabwe in the group stage.

This solid rear-guard will make up one half of the final’s most important match-up – Lesotho’s defence against South Africa’s offence.

Amajita’s attack has been impressive. With six goals they are the tournament’s most prolific team.

2017 #COSAFAU20 best attacks:
South Africa

They also possess two of the competition’s best attackers.

Orlando Pirates starlet Lyle Foster has lived up to his hype with two goals to go with his fine performances while Luvuyo Mkatshana is the championship’s top scorer with three goals.

Notši, therefore, will likely set up the Makoanyane XI to be compact, rock-solid in defence and look use the pace and power of Roboama Koloti, who has two goals, on the counterattack. A lot will also depend on Lesotho’s midfield – be it Batlang Mokhele, Relebohile Mabone, Mokoteli Mohapi, Moteloa Khemisi or Bonang Mohapi – to shut down South Africa’s attacks early.

Roboama Koloti will crucial to Lesotho again...
It should be an interesting tussle.

Both sides will be at full strength or at least very close. For South Africa, Lehlogonolo Matlou is suspended after being sent off in the semi-final win over Egypt. However, Amajita will welcome back captain Thendo Mukumela and first-choice goalkeeper Khulekani Khubeka from suspension. Lesotho has a full squad to choose from.

Both teams, obviously, have a lot of motivation to win.

South Africa has won the COSAFA Under-20 Championships five times (the last win coming in 2013, in Lesotho) and is desperate to go one step better after being beaten 2-1 by Zambia in the final 12 months ago.

For Lesotho, it is simple.

A win in Saturday’s final would be one of the greatest moments in the country’s football history.

Finals Day on Saturday:
Third-place play-off (10:30)
Egypt v Uganda – Nkana Stadium

Final (14:00)
South Africa v Lesotho – Nkana Stadium

Lesotho Under-20 squad:
Goalkeepers: Mohaheng Ramalefane (Matlama), Kopano Silas (LCS)

Defenders: Tanki Seoli (Sefotha-fotha), Seeiso Lerotholi (Likhopo), Rethabile Mokokoane (Matlama), Liteboho Nkune (Majantja), John Mohai (Matlama), Itumeleng Leche (Lioli), Keletso Tlhaba (Majantja)

Midfielders: Batlang Mokhele (Lioli), Relebohile Mabone (LMPS),  Mokoteli Mohapi (Kick4Life),  Moteloa Khemisi (Matlama), Bonang Mohapi (Kick4Life)

Forwards: Tšeliso Botsane (Sefothafotha), Lehlohonolo Masienyane (Lerotholi Polytechnic), Thaane Mokoena (Likhopo), Roboama Koloti (LMPS), Katleho Makateng (Litšilo), Roboama Koloti (LMPS)

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