MASERU — Lesotho’s Under-23 national team crashed out meekly from the All Africa Games qualifiers when they were held to a one-all draw by Malawi last Sunday.
The draw meant Lesotho went out of the qualifiers on a 4-1 aggregate after the team’s 3-0 loss in Blantyre a fortnight ago.
The ouster has exposed the deep cracks that need to be attended to if the side is to be competitive against Africa’s finest.
The Under-23 side, which lost tamely to Malawi over two legs was made up mostly of the Makoanyane XI who will take on Africa’s best at the Caf African Youth Championship in Libya in March.
What was clear from Sunday’s performance was the team is still unable to play cohesive football on a consistent basis.
The passing was certainly not good enough and as a result Lesotho allowed their visitors to get into a comfort zone in the first half.
In a situation where Lesotho needed to score at least three goals the home side was unable to penetrate the opposition in any heart-stopping way.
Instead at times it was Malawi who were more comfortable on the ball and never looked in danger of conceding a goal.
And after unco-ordinated huffing and puffing by the Lesotho side it was Malawi who opened the scoring through Luka Milanzi in the 54th minute, a goal which effectively killed off the game.
After losing 3-0 in the first leg Lesotho had to score five goals to go through.
Lesotho brought on Lehlomela Ramabele, Litšepe Marabe and Mosiuoa Boseka in response and improved pressure meant the hosts did pull one back when Tšoanelo Koetle scored a fortuitous goal in the 80th minute.
But it was a performance that didn’t fulfil the home team’s potential.
One problem Malawi coach Alex Masanjala highlighted as a weakness was Lesotho’s defence which simply hoofed the ball aimlessly forward and gave away too much possession.
“The defence was not very good and they just kicked the ball forward,” Masanjala said.
However, Masanjala said Lesotho was a tough opponent which had pace on the flanks.
“They are a good team. On the flanks there is a lot of pace. It takes time to build a winning team,” he said when asked how he felt Lesotho would fare at the Caf African Youth Championship.
“Those games are never easy. They played very hard in the first half maybe they became fatigued in the second half,” Masanjala said.
Lesotho’s coach Leslie Notši remained upbeat over the performance.
“We are disappointed that we did not win. But at the same time I would say this game has given us hope for the future. I just hope that this is where we will be able to build from,” he said.
Notši said there was a huge improvement from last week’s 1-1 draw with South Africa’s Under-23 side and the first leg in Blantyre two weeks ago.
Once again Notši stressed that said he wanted the team to play as a unit and not as individuals and also play direct football.
“We want to play as a unit and we need to be physically and mentally fit,” Notši said.
“We need players who have a high level of endurance. We are looking at the strengths of the players whom we have.”
Notši nonetheless pointed out that he would like to add to the creativity of the team saying: “There has to be more creativity in the team to create more goal scoring opportunities.”
Overall the players lacked verve and confidence on the ball that was shown by winger Montoeli Sonopo who was the standout player on the day.
Put simply the task will be much tougher in Libya where the Makoanyane XI open up against Egypt, before games against Libya and Mali.
So far Notši and his technical team have done a splendid job in moulding the Makoanyane XI side.
They have turned Lesotho into a solid unit that is hard to beat.
But they now face a challenge to add a consistent cutting edge to the Makoanyane XI and also keep the young side focused on the task at hand.
In recent weeks they have certainly lacked the killer instinct that the side showed in 2010.
At last month’s Cosafa Under-20 Youth Championships, Lesotho were punished for a laid-back approach when Namibia came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2.
Namibia eventually won the group on goal difference ahead of Lesotho and reached the final of the tournament where it lost 4-0 to Zambia.
The first leg in Blantyre also saw a lacklustre display by all accounts.
Maybe the Under-20 players have perhaps understandably been saving themselves for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is the Caf African Youth Championship.
Should Lesotho qualify from their group they will qualify for the Fifa Under-20 tournament in Colombia in July where a world of opportunity would await the players.
But for now a lot of hard work remains for the players and staff alike ahead of the most important episode of their careers.