OUR senior national Likuena side has an unsavoury reputation as one of the whipping boys of African football due to the humiliating defeats the team has suffered now and again on the continental stage.
Likuena have never qualified for any major event and at some stage they even struggled to make it past the group stages of the regional COSAFA Cup.
But the times appear to be changing and there is optimism in the air after last year’s impressive showing at the COSAFA Cup and lately the back to back victories over Swaziland and Mauritania in preparatory friendly matches ahead of a busy schedule that will see the team play in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers, the COSAFA Cup as well as the African Nations Championships (CHAN).
Likuena will get the AFCON campaign underway this weekend away to Tanzania.
This is a group that also includes Uganda and the Cape Verde, and such is the air of optimism that Likuena will finally make history by securing qualification.
Likuena have nothing to fear from any of the three teams in the group.
There is no Nigeria, Algeria, Ghana, Senegal or even South Africa. Uganda and the Cape Verde may have done slightly better than us, particularly by appearing at the continental showpiece but then again none of these are African powerhouses. They are not even the best in their regions and so Likuena can and should fancy their chances of a maiden appearance at the AFCON tournament in Cameroon in 2019.
There is so much to engender optimism after beating Swaziland who have of late become a tough customer for anyone.
These may have been friendlies but they certainly painted the picture of a hungry Likuena.
Besides there’s no saying where a good run will take them.
Coach Moses Maliehe has assembled a very balanced squad with the right experience in international football.
You don’t have to look further than Captain Bokang ‘Lefty’ Mothoana who is a seasoned campaigner with national experience that extends back to his days in the junior teams including the under-17s.
Lefty is back to his best after reuniting with former national team coach Leslie Notši at his club, Kick4Life.
He has formed a solid partnership in the heart of the Likuena midfield with the talented Tšoanelo Koetle.
Playing just ahead of them is the best player in the just-ended Vodacom Premier League in the just-ended season, Hlompho Kalake.
Kalake was watched by scouts from South African premiership side Bloemfontein Celtic and he might have done his chances of a move a lot of good after scoring the goal that gave Likuena the win over Mauritania.
There is no doubt that Kalake is playing the best football of his career and he has matured over the last two seasons for both club and country.
A new challenge in South Africa would certainly take his career to another level.
There is of course Tumelo Khutlang in attack and on his day he can win the game on his own.
Defensively, the team appears to have improved and if all the players come to the party in Tanzania, we will come away with something from the match.
All in all, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about this team though they will have to show they are the real deal on the field of play.
All that is left is for the players to believe in their abilities and reproduce the performances they displayed in the friendly games.
I also believe that most of the players deserve to showcase their talents in bigger leagues and the upcoming qualifiers are just the perfect stage to stake their case for recognition.
Good luck Likuena!