Likuena goalkeeper Ntsane Lichaba nearly quit football even before his career took-off after he was deemed surplus to requirements at Matlama. However, the former Qoaling Emmanuel youth player was able to resurrect his career at Bantu to ultimately become the first-choice goalkeeper for his country. In this wide ranging interview, the shot stopper opens-up about how he managed to get his career back on track.
LeFA: Take us back to your first match for the national team. Didn’t you have goosebumps when the coaches told you that you are in the starting lineup?
Lichaba: It was at the COSAFA Cup against Zimbabwe. I was scared and panicking, but at the same time, it was a dream come true for me. The technical team did their part to prepare me for the game. They told me that I was not in the team by fluke and I earned it through my performance at club level. My teammates were also happy for me and kept encouraging me. That helped to kill those nerves. Unfortunately, I had to be taken-off during the game due to injury and we lost on penalties to Zimbabwe in the bronze medal play-off.
LeFA: It must have been exciting when you received the news of your first call up to the senior national team?
Lichaba: I was over the moon and emotional as well. I was in tears when I got home and wished that my mother was still alive to celebrate the good news with me. It would have been nice for her to see all my successes in football. When I finally reported for camp, I knew that a lot was expected from me because of the success I had enjoyed with Bantu and having been voted the Econet Premier League Goalkeeper of the Year for the 2018/19 season. I had to settle quickly into the team because after the COSAFA Cup we played in the Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifiers.
At this stage, Sam Ketsekile, who had been the first choice had announced his retirement from the national team. I could see that all eyes were on me to step-up to the plate. It was tough because I was pretty much new to the national team set-up.LeFA: Which goalkeeper did you look up to while you were still growing up?
Lichaba: I loved Liteboho “Staza” Mokhesi, not just because he is now my goalkeeper coach at Bantu. He was at Matlama when I was coming through the ranks at the club and one of the best goalkeepers in the country at that time. Internationally, I modelled my game on former Orlando Pirates and Bafana Bafana goalkeeper, the late Senzo Meyiwa and former Spain captain-Iker Casillas.
LeFA: How would you describe your journey to becoming one of the top goalkeepers in the country?
Lichaba: it’s been a tough journey to be honest especially when I was not playing at Matlama. I was later released by the club and I wanted to quit football. I was heartbroken, but coach Dlomo Monaphathi, who is now the assistant coach at Bantu and the likes of Hlompho Kalake and captain-Thapelo Mokhehle, encouraged me to give it another chance at Bantu and it worked out. We played together at Matlama before and I owe them a lot for not giving up on me.
LeFA: What do you want to achieve with the national team?
Lichaba: To qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations. We have only played two games drawing one and losing one. Our group is still wide open and it would also be nice to improve our position in the FIFA rankings.
LeFA: You have won ten (10) caps since making your debut for Likuena. Tell us about your best and toughest games up to so far?
Lichaba: Our last match against Nigeria. They are a powerhouse and came with a very strong squad of experienced players, who also play at the highest level in Europe. The game required a lot of mental strength. As for my best game, I would say the 3-0 win over South Africa at the Dobsonville Stadium in the CHAN competition was the best. Basotho came in big numbers to watch the match and we were able to reward them with a big victory. We got a clean sheet. We completed a double over Bafana Bafana having beaten them 3-2 in the first leg match at Setsoto Stadium.
LeFA: You have established yourself as a penalty specialist from that big victory over Township Rollers in the CAF Champions’ League game?
Lichaba: What I can say is that, penalties need a skill and a lot of practicing. Every day after the training session, I remain with players that are good penalty takers to test my abilities to stop them. That has helped me a lot over the years.
LeFA: You have also played for the junior national teams. What is the difference between playing for them and Likuena?
Lichaba: The difference is not that huge. With the junior teams, you will find that most of the players are still playing in their respective countries and are not that well known, but it’s different when you go to the senior level because we come against big names players, who ply their trade in Europe like it was the case with Nigeria recently and most of the time we are underdogs. This is due to the fact that majority of us play here in the Econet Premier League.
LeFA: lastly, football activities world wide have been put on hold because of the Coronavirus. How difficult has it been for you as a player to keep fit during the lockdown and what is your message to Basotho during this difficult period?
Lichaba: It has been very difficult for us to remain in good shape and training on our own at home especially for me as a goalkeeper. I have had to train without no ball work. My message to Basotho is to abide by the rules of the lockdown. It is for our own safety. We all know that prevention is better than cure. I will like to see all of us safe and alive when we return to action. May God be with us all.