Lesothoâ€™s Senior Menâ€™s National team Likuenaâ€™s dream of qualifying for the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament for the first time were shuttered on Saturday when they played to a goalless draw against Sierra Leone at home in the Setsoto Stadium, Maseru.
The Thabo Senong-coached side went into the encounter aware that only a win could keep their dream of qualifying alive. However, lady luck did not smile in their favour as their failure to break past their opponentâ€™s defense means that their encounter against Nigeria was just a formality.
The game started with a very slow tempo although both teams knew that only a win was to secure them a chance to a possible qualification. Hence there was literally not much of action to write home about in the opening 30 minutes.
It was only in the 35th minute Motebang Sera had a first real chance with a header which, however, flew over the woodwork.
In the second stanza of the game, Likuena debutant Tumelo Ngatane was substituted with Libya based forward Nkoto Masoabi coming in.
As the game progressed rather slowly, Sierra Leone goalkeeper Mohamed Kamara was called in to action with a strike just outside the box by Hlompho Kalake.
The host side coach, Senong then introduced Tumelo Khutlang, LitÅ¡epe Marabe and TÅ¡epo Toloane in place for Sera, Neo Mokhachane and Lehlohonolo Fothoane respectively. The move clearly showed the coachâ€™s intention of trying to get goals by igniting his sideâ€™s attack force.
However, still no real goal-mouth action was created, instead the visitors seemed to be more determined to get a goal and break the deadlock in 62nd minute but the Sierra Leon midfielderâ€™s hard reaching screamer hit the woodwork.
As the game was coming to a close, Lesothoâ€™s goalkeeper Sekhoane Moerane was brought in to action having to stop Yeami Duniaâ€™s shot which resulted in a corner kick.
In a post-match interview, Senong said although he was disappointed that the team failed to win, he was taking comfort in knowing that â€œa draw is better than a lossâ€.
The coach said he is taking all the blame for failure to qualify.
â€œThe aim was not to concede but to score and I believe our players tried hard to perform,â€ Senong said.
â€œWe did not do well in the final third. We tried an attacking approach in the first half and in the second half we had to bring in fresh legs still trying to maintain our attack but unfortunately, we failed to score. I will not blame the players, they did everything they could.
â€œIâ€™m proud with the performance but not the results. As a coach I take the blame,â€ he said.
In their first leg meeting, in Francistown, Sierra Leone in November 2019, the two teams still couldnâ€™t see victory against each other as they played to a one-all draw.
The Saturday draw left Lesotho at the bottom of Group L with three points from five encounters.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday Nigeria also rubbed salt to the wound of Lesotho while defeating the side 3-0 in the final AFCON qualifier in Group L. The match took place in Lagos as the Super Eagles ended their campaign in style at home.
Victor Osimhen, Ognenekaro Etebo and Paul Onuachu were on the score sheet as the West African giants saw off the Senong coached side which had little to respond to the dominant Nigerian side.
The results that wrapped up the AFCON qualifiers means Lesotho only managed to secure three points out of a possible 18 that was up for grabs. They drew 0-0 against Benin at home, drew 1-1 against Sierra Leone away and 0-0 at home managing to score four times during the qualifiers.