MASERU — At the end of the day it could have been worse.
Lesotho dreaded facing off against the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the side everyone in Saturday’s preliminary draw was hoping to avoid.
But it is Burundi that Lesotho will play for the right to make it to the group stage of the 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifiers accoring to the draw announced in Brazil on Saturday.
The first leg of the preliminary clash will be played at the Setsoto Stadium on November 11 before Likuena travel to Burundi four days later for the second leg.
The match is a clash of two of the continents smallest sides.
Lesotho is ranked 184th, the lowest ranking Likuena has occupied since rankings were introduced in 1993.
Burundi are ranked 143rd and have been one of the steadily improving countries in African football in recent years.
Their most recognisable player is perhaps defender Valery Nahayo who recently left South African giants Kaizer Chiefs for Belgium’s K.A.A. Gent.
Other Burundi players that include Dugary Ndabashinze (Genk), Kassim Bizimana (VV Sneek), Saidi Ntibazonkiza (Cracovia), Omar Mussa (KFCO Wilrijk) and Musaba Selemani (RFC Liege) all ply their trade in Europe.
If Likuena make it past Burundi they will make it into a tough group made up of Ghana, Zambia and Sudan from which only the top team will progress.
But for now the most important thing is for Lesotho to deal with Burundi.
The preliminary round consists of Africa’s 24 lowest ranked nations.
The winners of the preliminary matches will go through to the group stage of World Cup qualifying along with the remaining 28 participating Caf member associations.
The group stage will consist of 10 groups of four countries each and will take place between June 2012 and September 2013.
A victory against Burundi would be the lift Lesotho needs.
Likuena coach Leslie Notši said he was satisfied with the draw.
“The draw is good. If you are in a competition you have to prepare yourself to face any nation that you are drawn against,” he told the Lesotho Times on Tuesday.
“I fancy our chances, I see ourselves having an opportunity and I think we have what it takes to progress.”
“I have read about Burundi and they have improved a lot in recent years. They have good players, Nahayo, for example.
“Like teams in East Africa they have tall players and they are strong,” Notši said. “They are not going to be an easy opponent but the challenge is there for us as a country and it is a good one,” Notši said.
Likuena have been in self-imposed exile since the beginning of last year when the team was disbanded by the Lesotho Football Association (Lefa).
The national side hasn’t played a full international since September 2009 when they beat Mauritius 1-0 in the Cosafa Senior Challenge in Zimbabwe.
Lefa decided to focus on rebuilding the under-performing senior team through the Under-20 team, the Makoanyane XI, and Under-17 side, Bahlabani.
The decision paid off as the Under-20 team managed to qualify for the Caf African Youth Championship early this year.
In many ways the Burundi match will be uncharted territory for Lesotho.
It will be the first time Lesotho plays against Burundi and their first qualifier since 2008.
Likuena’s last win in a competitive international match came way back in March 2007, a 3-1 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier win over Niger at the Setsoto Stadium.
Lesotho’s record over the past five years stands at seven wins and 17 losses in 30 games.
That record coupled with an almost two-year exile will see Likuena enter the game as underdogs.
Notši will cut down his 42-man provisional squad next week as he steps up his programme for the match against Burundi when the road to the 2014 World Cup begins.
World Cup qualifying draw in full:
Group A: South Africa, Botswana, Central African Republic, Somalia or Ethiopia.
Group B: Tunisia, Cape Verde Islands, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea or Madagascar
Group C: Côte d’Ivoire, Morocco, Gambia, Chad or Tanzania
Group D: Ghana, Zambia, Sudan, Lesotho or Burundi
Group E: Burkina Faso, Gabon, Niger, Sao Tome e Principe or Congo
Group F: Nigeria, Malawi, Seychelles or Kenya, Djibouti or Namibia
Group G: Egypt, Guinea, Zimbabwe, Comoros or Mozambique
Group H: Algeria, Mali, Benin, Eritrea or Rwanda
Group I: Cameroon, Libya, Guinea-Bissau or Togo, Swaziland or DRC
Group J: Senegal, Uganda, Angola, Mauritius or Liberia