â€¦following a 2-1 victory over groupâ€™s toughest competition
The senior national menâ€™s soccer team, Likuena looks set for a top-spot finish in Group B of the 2022 Confederation of Southern African Football Association (COSAFA) campaign currently ongoing in the Kwazulu Natal province of South Africa, following a spirit-lifting 2-1 victory over fiercest group competition Malawi on Wednesday.
Likuena will make battle with Mauritius, who come into the encounter as underdogs following a 0-3 group-opener thumping at the hands of eSwatini, this evening (Friday July 08, 2022) at the King Zwelithini Stadium in Durban.
The last time the two met was in an international friendly practice match ahead of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) Qualifier games earlier this year where Likuena walloped the islanders by 3-0.
If COSAFA history is anything to go by, Likuena has the upper hand over their counterparts as they beat them in all the two encounters they played in the competition
The star-studded Malawi-side looked to be the greatest stumbling block in Lesothoâ€™s way to top the group with the other two opponents eSwatini and Mauritius a walk-over, but the mountain Kingdom warriors were more than up for the task ensuring that they are a voodoo team for Malawi.
The last time the two sides met in the COSAFA Cup in 2016, it still Lesotho that prevailed victorious with a 1-0 edging, and the Vaselin Jelusic-coached side was determined to repeat the feat they achieved then.
For the majority of the first 10 minutes there was little to no action with both sides cautious of losing their first game. However, it was Lesotho that drew first blood taking the game to Malawi and forcing them to concede the gameâ€™s opener through an own goal by defender Sankhani Mkandawire in the 15th minute after pressure by Katleho Makatengâ€™s fearless approach.
However, Likuena still struggled to find their footing even after the goal barely holding possession of the ball for long as the Malawian midfielders especially controlled the middle of the park leaving more work to be done by the defence marshaled by Mkhanazi Motlomelo and Kopano Tseka who remained intact forcing the game to go into the interval with matters still 1-0 in Likuenaâ€™s favour.
As the second half of the game began, Malawi made their first substitution bringing-in Peter Banda for Chikoti Chirwa which upped the tempo of the game swinging it in Malawiâ€™s favour, but it was Lesotho that secured another goal soon after in the 56th minute with Jane ThabantÅ¡oâ€™s flick finding Makateng who easily whizzed the ball past Malawi goalkeeper Ernest Kakhobwe to take the lead to 2-0.
A forced change for Likuena saw an injured Thabang Malane make-way for TÅ¡epo Toloane in the 69th minute, with ThabantÅ¡o also replaced by team-mate Rethabile Mokokoane in the 80th minute.
Malawi also made another substitution bringing-in Schumacher Kuwali in place for Gabadinho Mhango, which paid-off as eight minutes later, Chiukepo Msowoya assisted by Banda, put one past the Likuena defence for a consolation goal, thus ending matters at 2-1 in favor of Lesotho.
Speaking after the game, Likuena coach, Jelusic said he expected a very tough match knowing well that the Malawi national team is one of the very strong opponents in the competition.
â€œThey play aggressive and attractive football as we expected but it is part of the sport to fight until the end of the game which is what we did,â€ Jelusic said.
He said the COSAFA tournament is one of the most physically-challenging tournaments for any footballer as the games come thick and fast which means there is not much time for recovery.
â€œTo play three games in six days is too much even for high level professional players. They are exposed to injury and to fatigue but it is the regulation of the competition and we cannot change it rather to work on our recovery as soon as possible. Maybe put in some new players with fresh legs in the next game and hope to have more chances going forward,â€ he said.
The final group B match will be against eSwatini on Sunday after the Swazis face-off with Malawi today following their group-opener 3-0 victory against Mauritius.