Lesotho is a nation of sports-loving people especially with soccer, which is the most popular of all sporting codes. Along the years, the senior national team-Likuena has produced some of the most amazing moments that remain unforgettable.
The LeFA media team caught-up with former national team players, coaches and administrators to speak about their memorable Likuena matches.
Seepheephe Matete, also known as “Mochine”, is a retired former Lesotho soccer player and coach. He was best known for being a star midfielder for Matlama as well as the Lesotho national team.
Matete: There is one match I will never forget, I was the assistant coach to the late April “Styles” Phumo for the senior national team-Likuena. It was a qualifying match for the Africa Cup of Nations and we played Botswana here at home in the first leg encounter. It ended in a goalless draw and we went to Gaborone for the second leg. No one expected us to beat Botswana in their backyard, but we stunned them. Our boys were on top of their game in that match and we won 4-0. We had a good team with the likes of Likhetho Mokhathi, Tšepo Mofelehetsi and the late Tlhokomelo Api. Majority of the players in our squad were from Arsenal as they were the best team in the country in the early 90s.
The game against Cameroon, as well in 1994, remains among the best. They had just played at the 1994 World Cup and were expecting a walkover against Likuena. Their team had players with big names. They were also stunned and couldn’t believe the result of the match (Likuena won 2-0). We had a great group of players, who were hungry and determined to succeed. Thabane Sutu, Lefika Lekhotla, Lekoane Lekoane, Motlalepula Majoro. It’s a long list. It was unbelievable; people continue to talk about that game even today because it’s unforgettable.
Victories over Zambia and Angola during the COSAFA Cup in 2000 as well are unforgettable. The team ended up reaching the final. Likuena was under the leadership of the late Monaheng “Doc” Monyane and my brother, Mahao “Bomber” Matete. The Setsoto Stadium was always a full house then. The two games against Kenya as well during the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers stand out among the best games for Likuena for me. I was the coach of the team at that time and the Kenyan side had a good team that included Tottenham’s Victor Wanyama. We beat them 1-0 here at Setsoto Stadium and went on to get a goalless draw in the second leg in Nairobi to make it to the group stage of the qualifiers. The game in Nairobi was very tough because they brought more of their star players, who were playing outside the country and had missed the first leg in Maseru. Their top striker Dennis Oliech was one of them. He gave us a tough time throughout the match, but we managed to survive to make it through the group stage with the 1-0 aggregate score line.
Leslie Notši is a retired former Matlama goalkeeper and has also had a long coaching career with the Lesotho national teams. He is currently the technical director of the Lesotho Football Association.
Notši: I will start with the two games against Burundi, when I was in charge of Likuena. We played back-to-back matches against them in the qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup and won 3-2 on aggregate to make it into the group stage. The first leg was played at Setsoto Stadium and we won 1-0 courtesy of goal scorer Lehlomela Ramabele. The second leg was played in Bujumbura a few days later and we played-out to a 2-2 draw. Our goals were scored by Thapelo Tale and Bokang Mothoana, the latter scoring directly from a corner-kick. The players gave it their all in that game and secured a 3-2 aggregate score-line. It was one of the best performances I have seen from the team. We were drawn against Ghana, Sudan and Zambia in the group stage.
Our first match in that group was against Herve Renard’s Zambia, who came here as African Champions. We gave them a run for their money and came close to winning that match. We went ahead through a stunning goal scored by Litšepe Marabe, but they managed to salvage a point late in the game. Our last match was against Sudan, who were unbeaten at home for a decade, but we managed to beat them 3-1. Tšepo Seturumane, Tšoanelo Koetle and Tšepo Lekhooana scored the goals for us. We also managed to reach the semi-finals of the COSAFA Cup in Zambia in 2013 with the same group of players. It was the first time since the “Class of 2000” that Likuena had managed to make it to the semis.
The recent CHAN games against South Africa also stand out among the best, especially the second leg at Dobsonville Stadium. (Likuena won 3-0) We had not beaten South Africa before at that level. The players rose to the occasion and it was a sweet victory because it was away from home yet we didn’t concede.
Beating Cameroon at Setsoto Stadium in 1994 was also special. The Likuena team of that time was under the mentorship of the late Bra “Styles” Phumo and Ntate Thots (Lehlohonolo Thotanyana). There was also the Likuena team that reached the final of the COSAFA Cup in 2000. Victories over Zambia and Angola stood out for me. The late Bra “Doc” Monyane and Ntate “Bomber” Matete were in charge of the team. They beat good Zambian and Angolan teams to reach the final. Angola had the likes of Fabrice Akwa and Raul Chipenda, who is today the CAF Director of Technical and Development..
Bokang “Lefty” Mothoana, arguably one of the best players of his generation. A member of the Lesotho under-20 side that played the final of the COSAFA under-20 Championship in 2003, where they lost 1-0 to Madagascar in the final. He was also a member of the Makoanyane XI side that qualified for the then African Youth Championship for the first time in 2005 under the mentorship of Seepheephe Matete and Lehlohonolo Thotanyana. Mothoana, who came through the ranks at Likhopo, also played in Tunisia for Union Sportive Monastir.
Mothoana: That game against Cameroon in the early 90s is the one I will never forget. We all went to the match to see the big stars of Cameroon as they had just played at the World Cup as we used to watch them on television. No one gave Likuena a chance, but they were able to stun the star studded Indomitable Lions.
I was also happy when we beat South Africa’s Bafana Bafana in the recent African Nations Championship (CHAN) matches. Likuena were underdogs going into those matches, but were able to surprise all the people that had written our team off even before the matches were played. It was beautiful!
During my time as a player, I remember the game against Sudan in Khartoum, where we beat them 3-1. We dominated from the word go until the very last minute of the game. They had not lost at home in ten years. There is another game against Burundi in Bujumbura that was also a World Cup qualifier. I scored directly from the corner-kick and we went on to win the game 3-2 on aggregate. It was one of my best games in the national team colours. I also remember a COSAFA Cup tournament that was held in Zimbabwe and I scored a beautiful free-kick that handed us victory over Mauritius.
Khiba Mohoanyane, the Lesotho Football Association First Vice President, has led different generations of Likuena as both the team manager and head of delegation and in the process witnessed some of the best matches for the national team.
Mohoanyane: I might not remember the year, but we were playing Congo away and the Likuena team of those years was coached by Ntate Mafa “Ribbo” Ramakau. The squad was made of the likes of Kabelo Mosothoane, Molefe Makhele and others. The stadium was filled to the rafters. I think the capacity of the stadium was seventy thousand. It was a full house and had not witnessed anything like that before in my life. It was scary. Tensions were high and the match was very competitive. I remember they had one of their star players, who was playing in England and stayed at the same hotel with us ahead of the game. He had been on our case telling our boys that they are going to give us a beating we will never forget. Ntate Ramakau assigned Makhele to man-mark that player and he did a very good job. Makhele did his job perfectly so much that Congo had to take-off their star player. We managed to get a draw and everyone was shocked because no one gave us a chance of getting something from that game. It’s memorable indeed.
The second game that remains fresh in my mind came years later with the Likuena squad that had players like Bushy Moletsane and went to play Liberia in Monrovia. The weather conditions were very hot, but our players gave it their all to come out with positive results. Liberia had a very good team that included Anthony Laffor, who has been playing for Mamelodi Sundowns in South Africa. (Likuena advanced to the next round of the qualifiers with a 2-1 aggregate score.
Teele Ntšonyana, a member of the Likuena squad that reached the final of the COSAFA Cup in 2000. He was among the goal scorers in the 2-1 victory over Angola in the semi-finals and his impressive showings in the tournament earned him a contract at Bidvest Wits in the South African Premiership. The legendary Likuena striker was also a member of the Likuena squad that stunned Cameroon 2-0 at the Setsoto Stadium in 1994.
Ntšonyana: That game against Cameroon in 1994, as well as matches against Zambia and Angola in the COSAFA Cup in 2000, was outstanding. I was part of that special generation of players that beat Cameroon and all the odds were against us. It was around the same time that the Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) was established and the government was withdrawing its support. Our camp was held at Anglican Church and it was only after Cameroon arrived in the country that we were offered an opportunity to camp at a hotel. We turned that offer down because we were happy where we stayed. We were united and were blessed with good leaders in the late Ntate “Styles” Phumo and his assistant-Lehlohonolo Thotanyana. We wanted to prove a point because of the hardships we went through. No one also gave us a chance of beating the star studded Cameroonian side.
As for the game against Angola and Zambia, we believed in our abilities and made a vow to beat any team that came our way irrespective of who they were in those days. We had two good coaches in the late Ntate “Doc” Monyane, who was the head coach, a good motivator and also blessed with man-management skills. The assistant coach, Ntate Matete on the other hand was a technician and handled all issues that had to do with tactics. In that game against Zambia, our goalkeeper, the late Tšeliso Thite, told us to do our part and he will do his by saving penalties. Our defence was hard to crack with two lanky centre-backs in Mpitsa Marai and Tšepo Hlojeng, who were able to deal with the Zambian strikers and in the end we won on penalties. Thite kept true to his word and was our hero saving penalties to help us beat Zambia. The atmosphere was fantastic. Basotho were happy.
The game against Angola was also a big test for us as majority of their players were playing abroad, but we were committed to the cause. We had the backing of the country because I remember very well in those days there was what was called Likuena Supporters Club. The singing from the stands in every game gave us strength to go an extra mile. Angola scored first, but as I was about to re-start the game, I was in tears and I told myself that we have to win this game. It’s a must win and I managed to find the equalizer before Motlatsi Maseela scored the winner for a 2-1 victory. Getting a goal on the day was cherry on top, memorable.