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Likuena: same old song



MASERU – Lesotho’s elimination from contention to qualify for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nation (AFCON) has put a further spotlight on the state of football in the country.

The problems that have existed long before some of us were born continue to be exposed at the international level and they are halting the development of the national team.

Many have labelled Likuena a national embarrassment and a waste of money.

To be honest, they are probably right.

People don’t care how Lesotho played anymore; they want to know what the margin of defeat was.

We can call Likuena all kinds of names under the sun but the truth is they are the face of the Vodacom Premier League, the elite level of football in Lesotho. Likuena’s successes or failures mirror the local league and its state.

After two back-to-back defeats against Zambia in the 2023 AFCON qualifiers this past week, people rushed to social media to air their opinions and much of the blame was placed on the head of coach Veselin Jelusic.

Many upset Likuena fans said his approach on Sunday’s game against Zambia was cowardice and they blamed it as the reason for Lesotho’s 2-0 defeat at the Dobsonville Stadium.

After losing 3-1 in Zambia last Thursday, many felt Jelusic should have taken the game to the visitors in the return.

It is normal to look for a scapegoat and most of the time the blame always falls on the coach.

At some point, however, the players are going to have to bear the responsibility as well.

The clanger Likuena goalkeeper Sekhoane Moerane pulled in the first leg is unacceptable and mistakes like that do not belong in top-flight football, let alone against professional, international players.

Moerane may get away with being cocky and overconfident in local football, but he let his team down and maybe it’s time another goalkeeper is given a chance to be Lesotho’s number one.

Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong in Soweto last Thursday.

Suddenly the players had forgotten the basics, even just passing the ball accurately to a teammate seemed like a big ask.

The players were so uncomfortable on the ball that they were quick to get rid of it at the first opportunity – if you didn’t know, you would have thought the ball was a bomb.

There was no communication from back to front and it seemed as if Likuena’s players had met on the day.

The players displayed no fighting spirit, especially in the return leg. It was almost a betrayal to the nation to just give up like that and hopefully some of those players have played their last game for the national team.

When Jelusic took over the team in February last year he emphasised the need to be realistic when doing an assessment of the quality of our players and ascertaining what their capabilities were.

90 percent of Likuena’s squad ply their trade in the Vodacom Premier League and only three are outside the country in the form of Motebang Sera, Katleho Makateng and Tshwarelo Bereng.

More players need to be exported to professional leagues outside Lesotho to gain experience.

Jelusic’s future with the national team, meanwhile, is unknown. The Serbian coach has entered the second year of his two-year deal and there has been no word on what comes next.

The Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) National Executive Committee (NEC) will decide on what to do.

What we do know is that LEFA’s NEC has spent the last decade firing and hiring coaches with no improvements, and if they do sack Jelusic after less than two years, they should be held accountable for their choices of coaches.

Again, we are singing the same old song that in order for football and, sport in general, to develop, there is a need for investment in infrastructure in order to advance and nurture talent.

In a poor country like ours where players train on cabbage surfaces, a coach can never totally shoulder the blame for the failures of national team.

The government turned its back on sports a long time ago and their lack of enthusiasm for sport is underpinned by the fact that Likuena play their home matches in South Africa and there is no shame whatsoever.

While many have been throwing names out who should replace Jelusic, if you ask me, I would not sack him.

If it were up to me, and this may be unpopular with the majority of people out there, I would give Jelusic a chance.

As disappointing as Likuena’s performance was, I do think there is a chance that, with time, he can build a good team. What we have seen in friendly matches and last year’s COSAFA Cup is that although Likuena failed to get out of their group, they had a system they were playing in.

The main issue is scoring goals but that is not Jelusic’s problem only, it’s a problem for the whole premier league.

Jelusic has brought new faces into the squad and more are needed while phasing out the old guard that has let the country down over and over again.

I still retain trust in Jelusic, I am not turning a blind eye on the disappointments. If LEFA were to sack him, I wouldn’t cry for him but I think it would be premature to do so.

When speaking with reporters at a press conference after Sunday’s defeat in Soweto, Jelusic said his technical team wants to promote as many young players as possible to the national side in order to gain experience.

“(We want) to promote younger players to give them a chance to play for the national team to promote themselves and eventually get chances to play in international teams because international experience is absolutely crucial for success in any competition,” Jelusic said.

“For example, Zambia has 15 overseas players, nine of them are in prominent European teams and we have one or two players that play in South Africa. So, this international experience is important for the success of the national team,” he said.

We are all waiting to see and hear what LEFA decides is the best course of action, but we need to stop running away from the root of the failure which is the lack of development in the country.

Tlalane Phahla

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