MASERU — Makoanyane XI put up a drab show at the Caf African Youth Championship in South Africa to bomb out of the tournament with a miserable point.
The poor performance was perhaps to be expected.
It was a performance by a team of amateurs playing against countries that have professional leagues or at least well-established youth systems.
But it wasn’t that the team lost but rather the manner in which they meekly gave it away that was most disappointing.
Leslie Notši’s team went out with a whimper and were without doubt the most sterile side at the tournament.
They seemed lost and looked almost uninterested. In short the team never seemed interested in rising to the occasion.
Perhaps the players innately were bored of the same old familiar South African surroundings and facing a team they had disposed of in the qualifiers.
Maybe after qualifying for the championship, that was originally set for Libya, the Makoanyane XI players were dead set on another lengthy excursion to a land far away.
As a result the Makoanyane XI finished bottom of Group A after losses to Egypt and South Africa and a draw with Mali.
Of course there are areas where Lesotho in its current level of football can’t compete at all such as the lack of consistent technique and ball control.
The country’s players are not schooled in the basics at club level and at times at the tournament moves broke down because of a poor first touch.
But this can be forgiven, if it is accompanied by some sort of intent.
The general passing and technique in the first two thirds of the field wasn’t bad, Makoanyane were able to hold on to the ball reasonably enough. But there was no aggression and never a sense Lesotho would win.
The worst performance was the first half against South Africa which was an appalling display of football.
On an individual basis few players can say they had a good tournament, with only captain Basia Makepe having a truly eye-catching tournament.
The Joy FC defender was outstanding in the opening 2-0 loss to Egypt and was a consistent performer throughout the championships.
But in comparison with the other sides, the West African sides in Group B for example, Lesotho’s players were laid-back.
Maybe that also captures the general culture towards football in general in Lesotho. Perhaps it is also down to the guidance and advice the Makoanyane XI players were given by their technical team and the Lesotho Football Association (Lefa).
But the question is: Was there any guidance and proper education of the occasion and its potential individual benefits?
Four of the team’s five goals that were conceded came from the wide areas and it was clear Lesotho was jittery whenever balls were swung in aerially from wide positions.
It is another of the weaknesses that can be tied to the habits that come from the league. Lesotho’s keepers lack height and this is exacerbated by a league where quality crossing is as common as alien sightings.
The overall set up of Notši’s team was also rather too defensive especially after the first loss to Egypt meant Lesotho had to pick-up points.
Instead against South Africa the team was packed with defensive players and throughout Notši stuck to a lone striker who was isolated. The reluctance to use two of the side’s inform players Lekhanya Lekhanya and Mosiuoa Boseka also cost the team. Both made a difference when given the chance from the bench.
Where to next?
In the end it’s unfair to completely blame the team, both players and coach. In this day and age its simply wishful thinking in the extreme to think Lesotho will compete on the international stage with its amateur football.
The team was given sound backing by Metropolitan Lesotho and Lefa and had the opportunity to train at the Lehakoe Club and held several camps.
But football is a long term investment.
Are there any strategies to move the game and subsequently this talented crop of players forward?
Are there plans to get these players trials or moves abroad? Will they, and others, remain playing on grazing fields, training only after work and school?
The success of qualifying certainly brought the association and those involved something to beat their chests about, but there are harsh realities in Lesotho football.
Of course there’s no need to burn the house down. Qualifying for the tournament was a massive achievement and Notši and his charges put Lesotho on the proverbial map.
But Lesotho had qualified before for the same championship in 2005 and remains the most amateur country in the region. Likuena is now ranked at a lowly 170 in the world.
The Caf African Youth Championships have again shown that qualifying is not the end game, it is just the beginning.