LINARE coach Freeze Ntene has called on his troops to prove the Hlotse-based outfit are not “a one-man team”.
The side, which surprised many with a third-place finish in the Vodacom Premier League race last season, face Likhopo in the first leg of the LNIG Top8 quarterfinal this weekend, without influential captain Mabuti Potloane.
The midfielder had been the bedrock of the team over recent years, but has left for nine-time league champions Matlama.
Ntene admits Potloane’s departure has left a huge void at the club, but is adamant his team could still compete for honours without the gifted national team playmaker.
Potloane could make his debut in Matlama’s famous blue-and-white strip when Tse Putsoa play Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) in the same competition on Sunday, and Ntene says there is no downplaying what the player’s absence means for the team.
“The truth must be said; he was a special player at the club and it will be really difficult to play without him, but life must go on,” Ntene said on Monday this week.
“Mabuti has left a big gap at the club as he was the leader of the team. In addition to his obvious talent, he had gained a lot of international experience with the national team, which was helping make Linare the team that it had become.
“But like I said, we still have players who can take us places in the absence of Mabuti, but it is up to these boys to prove this and also show the football fraternity that we are not a one-man team. The players need to prove that there is life at Linare after Mabuti.
“This is the big responsibility that we all have at the club, and it starts against Likhopo in the LNIG Top8 quarterfinal on Saturday. It would be good to get to the final the way we did last year, and prove we are a big team that works as a unit and not individuals.
“This club is bigger than any player and this is the ideal opportunity to prove this.
“We will work hard throughout this week to build on our league win over Qoaling Highlanders last Saturday as we prepare for Likhopo.”
Tse Tala, as Linare are affectionately known, have secured the services of former Qoaling Highlanders midfielder, Bulara Maema, who has been handed Potloane’s Number 10 shirt.
And Ntene is hoping the new arrival could quickly settle into the team and help Linare in their quest for honours.
Meanwhile, Bantu host Qoaling Highlanders in Mafeteng in the other Top8 quarterfinal first leg tie scheduled for Saturday.
A Matšo Matebele have a busy schedule as they would be taking part in three different competitions—the African Champions League, Top8 and league matches—over the next four weeks.
The Mafeteng side played friendly matches against South African Premier League teams Bloemfontein Celtic and Free State Stars over the last two weekends as part of preparations for next month’s African Champions League preliminary round match against Association Sportive Mangasport of Gabon.
Last Saturday, Bantu also played a league match against Kick4Life, which they won 2-0. However, the team lost 1-0 to Free State Stars the following day.
Highlanders, on the other hand, are going through a crisis, and lost 1-0 to Linare last Saturday. They remain rooted at the bottom of the 14-team Vodacom Premier League standings.
The Qoaling-based side have only won one of their 14 league matches of the 2014/15 season, and need to be at their best to get away with a surprise win over the star-studded Bantu.
In another Top8 quarterfinal match set for the weekend, Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) host Matlama at Ratjomose Barracks Ground on Sunday.
Both teams won their respective league matches last weekend, with Matlama beating Mphatlalatsane 2-1, while LDF edged Nyenye Rovers 1-0.
Matlama would be hoping to conclude the deal to bring Potloane to the club before the weekend match, although the player is already training with Tse Putsoa.
Yet LDF coach, Malefetsane Pheko, is confident his team would beat Matlama and progress to the semi-final of the money-spinning tournament whose winner pockets a cool M100 000.
“We had a promising start to the 2014/15 season and the team has continued to grow. I’m confident these players can bring back the glory days to the club,” Pheko said.
“My dream, as the coach of this team, is to see us dominating local football again and I think we have the quality to do so. We have shown a lot of improvement and will keeping working hard to achieve something this season.”
In yet another Top8 quarterfinal first-leg fixture, Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) host defending champions Lioli on Sunday.
Tse Nala failed to score in their drawn league match against Sundawana last Saturday, and would be hoping to fire when they face LCS at LCS Ground.
The absence of star-striker Tšepo Seturumane, who is undergoing training to become a police officer, could prove costly for Lioli.
Seturumane and another Lioli star—defensive rock Basia Makepe—would be away for the next six months as they would be at Police Training College (PTC) in Maseru.
LNIG Top8 quarterfinal fixtures
Saturday: FC Likhopo v Linare, Bantu v Qoaling Highlanders.
Sunday: LCS v Lioli, LDF v Matlama.