Winning your first cap against a Benin side entirely made-up of players plying their trade abroad would be an intimidating occasion for a 23-year-old, but it’s a task that Thabang Malane (TM) handled with aplomb as he made his debut for Lesotho in the 1-0 defeat to the Squirrels in Porto Novo late in 2020. The utility player, who plays for LCS in the Lesotho’s Vodacom Premier League sat down with LeFA media team to reflect on the day his dream was fulfilled.
LeFA: Take us back to the day you earned your first national team cap against Benin in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier…
TM: I was over the moon when the coaches told me that I will start the match. It was a life changing experience for my career when I finally made my debut for my country. It was a great honour for me to don the national team colours and win my first cap in such an important match.
LeFA: It must have been an intimidating occasion for you against the Benin side with almost all the players playing their football abroad?
TM: To my surprise, I didn’t have any stage fright. The fact that I was surrounded by experienced players in our team made it very easy for me to settle into the game. They encouraged me throughout the match and it really helped me a lot. I enjoyed myself on the day though we lost 1-0, but I think we deserved something from that game. LeFA: You were called-up to the national team before, but didn’t make the final cut. Did it come as a surprise when you were named in the traveling squad for the double header against Benin?
TM: I think the timing was perfect for me, I was ready for the challenge and embraced it with open arms. Like every soccer player, it has always been a dream to play for my country and I was delighted that it finally came true in the two matches against Benin.
LeFA: How would you summarize your first two matches in the national team colours?
TM: It was a little bit tough considering it came after the long lay-off brought by Covid-19. It was the first competitive match for the majority of us in the squad, but I think we did well as a team and were unfortunate to concede that goal in Porto Novo to lose the match 1-0. At home, I think we were unlucky not to win the match as it finished in a goalless stalemate. Luck wasn’t on our side on the day. Overall, I was happy with my contribution.
LeFA: You won your first cap under the mentorship of coach Thabo Senong. How has it been working with him?
TM: I have enjoyed every moment working with him. He is a caring coach, who is always open and honest to his players. He believes in hard work and is very supportive to all members of the team. He is always pushing and motivating us because he wants to get the best out of each player.
LeFA: You have been playing Premier League football for only three seasons. Do you think the national team came too soon for you?
TM: Like I said, I think I was ready for the challenge and playing in the lower divisions helped to prepare me for the journey ahead. I started with Blue Tigers at home in Machache before joining a team that was called Super Kingdom. That’s the team that bought the status of Sky Battalion to play in the A Division. I then moved to play premier league football with LCS during the 2017/18 season.
LeFA: Where would you want to see your career in the near future?
TM: I want to help LCS win trophies, cement my place in the national team and also help them qualify for major tournaments. I hope to inspire young players coming after me to also fulfill their dreams of playing at the highest level locally and outside the country. It will also be a dream come true for me to secure a move to play outside the country, maybe the PSL in South Africa or in Europe. Playing in Asia is also an option.
LeFA: Who inspired you to follow a career in football?
TM: My brothers though they never played at the highest level like me. They introduced me to football and would always take me with to play for our local team. They installed a winning mentally at an early stage and made sure I’m a competitive footballer.
LeFA: Which players do you look up to for inspiration?
TM: Locally, it’s my teammate at LCS in Makara Ntaitsane. Internationally, I’m a big fan of Bayern Munich and Germany’s Joshua Kimmich.
LeFA: As a defender, there are surely those players, who always give a tough time when you come against them?
TM: Tšepo Seturumane of LMPS and Bantu’s Hlompho Kalake, they are also teammates in the national team. Both are very talented though their style is different. They are tricky campaigners, who have been playing at the highest level for a long time.
LeFA: Covid-19 is causing a havoc world-wide. What’s your message to the football fraternity during this difficult period?
TM: Challenging times can bring us down, but they won’t last forever. Through these tough times, our only Hope is God. It is important that we continue to observe all the Covid-19 protocols. Let us sanitize, always put on our masks, avoid crowded places to stay safe.