Lesotho firm Cosafa favourites by default

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MASERU — At a time when most countries at this year’s Cosafa Castle Challenge are scrambling, hastily trying to gather their foreign-based stars, Lesotho is calm, arms folded, laid-back — sipping on the coolest beverage in this increasingly hot weather.  
When the tournament gets underway this Saturday, Swaziland for instance will be without any of their five South Africa-based players.
Botswana are also hamstrung this week because Orlando Pirates and Ajax Cape Town have refused to release their star players Phenyo Mongale and Dipsy Selolwane.
Hosts Zimbabwe, meanwhile, have out of necessity picked a locally based squad, whereas both Angola and South Africa will be sending youth sides to the Cosafa Challenge.
Because the regional tournament falls outside Fifa’s calendar dates club sides are not obliged to release their players, something that has caused headaches from Mbabane to Windhoek.
Lesotho however has had no such worries — Likuena’s only foreign-based player is captain Lehlohonolo Seema, who in any case hasn’t featured for the senior team this year.
But while that might be good news for Lesotho’s caretaker coach Leslie Notši, it is also a worry.
It is, as Lesotho competes in the region’s centrepiece, an indication of where the country’s football is right now — failing to export players and seeing its pool of players abroad virtually dry up.
It is in  stark contrast  to a decade ago when South African clubs were clamouring for Lesotho’s Lebajoa Mphongoa, Kabelo Mosothoane and Seema.
But very few are progressing now — the failures of Neo Makama, Motlalepula Mofolo who have both been stuck in Pirates’ development side for the past two years are a case in point.
Another Pirates casualty, Tefo Maipato, has returned home this season and has shown glimpses of his talent at Bantu.
So what is the problem? Why aren’t there more local players abroad?
Apart from fundamental problems that exist in Lesotho’s development programme — the Under-15 side playing once a year or the country’s school of excellence meeting just twice every 12 months for example — there are no systems in place to promote Lesotho’s top footballers.
For example, there is no one actively looking to export Lesotho’s players.
The only time Lesotho showed any willingness to get its players abroad was under Anthony Hey, but he was fired in 2006 after a two-year spell because he did not consult with Lefa when he arranged for Lesotho’s players to go on trials.
But Bokang Mothoana, Lesotho’s finest player, benefited from his move to Tunisian side US Monistir.
Things are now worse because Lesotho are not competing on the international stage. There was no side no local club side in African competition this year.
So even though according to Fifa there are 29 500 registered players in Lesotho and 80 500 unregistered players, Bushy Moletsane’s move to Botswana side Flamengo Santos means Lesotho has two players playing abroad.
And there are some exceptionally good players in the country right now.
Lioli captain Thabo Masualle has surely outgrown Lesotho’s Premier League, Likhopo striker Thapelo Tale has proven himself against international sides this year. There is also of course Mothoana and Moitheri Ntobo who have successfully played in Tunisia, one of Africa’s elite leagues.
Thapelo Mokhehle has also been in outstanding form so far this season for Matlama.
But apart from underground dealings similar to the Tumo Koatsa affair, which has gone in limbo, there seems to be no way players will move.
But for Notši he takes his strongest squad to Zimbabwe and certainly Lesotho’s weakness in not having foreign players should be their strength this time at the Cosafa Challenge.
Lesotho is the only country that will have their full strength team, and in truth they should be favourites for the tournament.
The task has also probably been made easier by the withdrawal of Tanzania from the tournament even if that means Likuena’s first game will be against Zimbabwe, before Lesotho play Mauritius on Wednesday.
It is why for all those who boarded the bus for Zimbabwe it should be more than just a Cosafa cup.
Next week represents Lesotho’s best chance to win a trophy. It is a chance for Notši to stake a claim to being the permanent coach.
But most important Lesotho’s players have a minimum of two games to put themselves in the shop window.

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