Mpitsa Marai was a member of the Likuena squad that made the country proud reaching the final of the COSAFA Cup in 2000. They defeated Zambia and Angola in the quarterfinal and semi-final respectively, but failed to live-up to expectations in the final suffering a 6-0 aggregate loss to Zimbabwe. The ‘Class of 2000’ coached by the late Monaheng ‘Doc’ Monyane, remains the only Likuena squad to have made the final of the regional competition.
Marai, who is now the Likuena assistant coach, went down memory lane with the LeFA website and picked his best XI from his old teammates.
Goalkeeper-Tšeliso Thite: The late Thite was a no-nonsense goalkeeper. His command from the back was very good. He was brave, had a good height to deal with crosses and was a good distributor of the ball. He played in South Africa for Bloemfontein Celtic, but unfortunately passed on in 2005.
Right-back-Eric Makara: Makara, who passed on a few years ago, was a funny character in the team. He was good buddies with the late Motlatsi Shale. He played as a right-back, but was a utility player, who could also play in midfield and all the positions in defence. He was huge and did not have the speed of a modern full-back, but never struggled to deal with tricky wingers.
Left-back-Motlatsi Maseela: Ntate Maseela was never a fancy player, but was always prepared to give a shift for the team. He had a big heart and was always busy down the left flank overlapping and defending. He was a dedicated football player and hated losing.
Centre-back-Tšepo Hlojeng: Our captain, he was a good leader with strong aerial presence. He was a man marker and could take-on any striker. I enjoyed playing with him at the heart of the defence because we developed a good understanding. He was an organiser and a natural born leader, who was always vocal in the field of play.
Centre-back-Mpitsa Marai: I played in the heart of the defence alongside Hlojeng and we had a very good understanding. I was a strong defender with aerial presence and also had organisational qualities. I got along with all my teammates and it was an honour to be part of this special team.
Central-midfield-Malefetsane Pheko: Pheko also hated losing. He did all the basics right and offered a lot as a midfielder. A good passer of the ball and made things happen. He wasn’t the tallest in our team, but was very good in the air.
Right-wing: Shalane Lehohla: A talented and skilful player. He didn’t have the pace of a typical winger, but could make the team play with his skills and ability to create chances for the strikers.
Central midfielder: Lehlohonolo Seema: Another player blessed with leadership skills in our team. Most people know him as a defender, but in those days, he was used mostly as midfielder because of his ability to read the game. He had all the attributes to make a top player and it was not a surprise that he became a legend in South Africa, where he had a long career captaining both Bloemfontein Celtic and Orlando Pirates.
Forward: Lebajoa Mphoangoa: His work ethic was incredible. He was a powerful striker and made defenders work because he had pace and was unpredictable. He didn’t score a lot of goals, but his teammates benefitted a lot from his runs utilising the spaces. His talents won him a contract at Bloemfontein Celtic in South Africa.
Playmaker: Molefe Makhele: He was unbelievable. He was a tireless box-to-box midfielder. A very good player, who would receive the ball and start looking for ways to take on the opponents. A hardworking and honest professional. He was very quiet.
Left-wing: Kutloisiso Nthonyana: If you wanted a player to take on defenders with pace, he was your man. He had a good left foot and always delivered good crosses to create goal scoring chances for the strikers. He was versatile and could play as a left-back as well.
Thabo Khoboli: He was also a good goalkeeper, but not as tall as the late Thite, which I think worked against him at times. He was the second choice to Thite, but did well whenever he was needed. He was quite good with his feet as well and loved playing as an outfield player.
Thabang Mahlakajoe: Solid defender, who was good with both his feet. He was also versatile and could play all the positions in defence. One of a few players from our Likuena team, who is not working as a coach today, but is still involved in football.
Seth Lephoto: His football intelligence was out of this world. Good at man marking and he was also a good passer of the ball.
Motheo Mohapi: ‘Six to Six’, what a player! An intelligent player, who you could say was a box-to-box midfielder. He had a long and successful career with LDF and has also stablished himself as one of the best coaches in the country since retiring. Almost all the players from that team are now working as coaches.
Motlatsi Shale: The late Shale was another crazy character in the team and was always full of jokes. When you were with Shale and Eric, it was all just laughter. May their souls rest in peace. In the field, Shale was a big and powerful striker, who gave defenders a tough time. Just like Ntšonyana, we directed most of our attacks on him because we knew he could either head the ball for a goal or play it back for attacking midfielders to finish.
Majara Masopha: He was the most clinical striker in our team. He wasn’t as big as the other strikers and lost a lot of ball, but he was a predator in the box.
Teele Ntšonyana: Big and powerful striker, who gave defenders a tough time. He could protect the ball and his style was a bit similar to that of Shale in terms of holding onto to the ball and bringing the attacking midfielders into play. An intelligent player, who could also play in defence. He was a fighter, good on the air and very brave in the box.
Kabelo Mosothoane and Paballo Mpakanyane: They were not always part of that squad, but did a good job when they were in the team. Both of them had speed to take on defenders. You could always call on them to change the game coming from the bench. Paballo wasn’t really a technically gifted player, but had pace and an eye for goal. Mosothoane had skill, pace and also an eye for goal. I think they also deserve to be mentioned when we talk about that team that reached the final of COSAFA.
Coach: Monaheng “Doc” Monyane: He had a good working relationship with all the players and was working with Mahao “Bomber” Matete as his assistant coach. They knew how to get the best out of this team and were very friendly to the players, but when it was time to get down to work, they were very strict.