Jelusic reflects on first year as Lesotho coach
Veselin Jelusic has reflected on his first year in charge of Lesotho, where his first assignment three weeks after the appointment was to secure a spot in the group stage of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations
The experienced gaffer has reunited with his family in Serbia for the first time since taking over the Lesotho coaching job in February. He took time off his Christmas break to speak with the LeFA Media team about his first year in the Kingdom.
LeFA: Coach Ves, take us through your first year in the Kingdom after your appointed as the Likuena coach, which started with the Africa Cup of Nations preliminary round two-legged tie against Seychelles….
VJ: For many reasons, it was very important for our national team to beat Seychelles in the preliminaries and advance to the group stage of qualifying competition for the next Africa Cup of Nations. With that victory, we ensured continuity in the activities of the national team and motivated the players to give more effort in representing Lesotho as successfully as possible in matches that followed.
LeFA: Likuena successfully passed that test against Seychelles but were drawn in a tough Group H for the AFCON qualifiers, which had former champions Ivory Coast and Zambia as well as Comoros….
VJ: In preparation for the Afcon qualifiers, we played a training match against the Namibian national team In Johannesburg, which we won 2-1 as well as the two FIFA friendly matches in Ethiopia and both ended in a 1-1 draw.
We played our first match of the qualifying campaign in Group L against Comoros in Moroni, a very strong team that had surprised many at Afcon tournament played earlier this year. We gave them a run for their money, but they the won 2-0, scoring two late goals. I believe that our entire connoisseurs know that the entire national team is made up of professional players whose parents live and work in European countries and who were developed at an early age in European clubs, which is why Comoros has done very well in recent years. These players play in strong leagues in France, Belgium, and other big leagues in Europe.
LeFA: The next match was against a star-studded Ivory Coast, where your team punched above their weight holding the Elephants to a goalless draw?
VJ: I just do not think we need to spend a lot of words on the strength of the Ivory Coast national team, which also has players in the strongest leagues in Europe, but we managed to get a goalless draw against them in Johannesburg. It came a few days after a difficult journey from Comoros, which for me was a sacrifice and commitment from our players. Of course, I felt very satisfied and proud of the players after that game and not because of the result, but because I had the honour and luck to work to work with people who give their best as well as fighting to the end. I think that is the essence of sport in general.
LeFA: After the back-to-back matches against Comoros and Ivory Coast, your team had to switch their attention to the COSAFA Cup played in Durban…
VJ: At the COSAFA Cup, we started very well winning our first two matches against Malawi and Mauritius but lost the crucial and last match against Eswatini. Right at the beginning of the game, we made a cardinal mistake that significantly disturbed us and eventually lost the game. We in the end failed to qualify for the next round of the competition, which was heart-breaking based on how well we started at the tournament.
LeFA: You have continued to hold camps mostly with local based players especially young players like 20-year-old goalkeeper, Mosoeu Seahloho, who is on his first year playing Premier League football in the country?
VJ: Since the COSAFA Cup, we have tried to continue with camps for local based players to help them continue to improve and remain in good shape. we have also included young players in the team in positions that maybe critical for the national team soon. Unfortunately, this was not always possible because the players attendance during those camps was very often prevented by the obligations they had with their clubs when we talk of employed players. In that sense, it seems to me that we lost the good momentum we had after playing ten games after July and now our level of general fitness is below the level we were then.
During this period, we on several occasions tried to schedule one or two friendly matches with national teams in our region, unfortunately due to their other commitments, the matches did not materialise. For these reasons, we resorted to an alternative solution and looked for possibilities of playing training matches against strong teams from South Africa.
We are grateful that some of the big teams in South Africa have responded positively to our proposal and we had an opportunity to have training matches with them. The matches did not have any competitive goal, but above all, to provide our players with a challenge like what we can expect in the upcoming Afcon matches and as well as giving young players in the team the opportunity to gain experience against stronger opponents. The Matches would also help fast-track their development. For their part, they showed responsibility and quality in the games, which we can be satisfied with at this moment. I hope that in the future, there will be more opportunities to play this type of training matches because they can greatly help the development and exposure of young players, who play for the national team.
Finally, let me wish all the people involved in football in Lesotho as well as all the citizens of Lesotho, a merry Christmas, and a Happy New year.