Matlama Football Club (FC) are the 2023 Alliance Challenge champions following their 1-0 win over Linare FC in the final.
Matlamaâ€™s successful 2023 campaign saw them brush aside last yearâ€™s winners Lioli FC by 3-0 in the semi-finals played on Saturday, before heading to the final where they edged Linare on Sunday at Setsoto Stadium.
Linare had narrowly beaten LCS by 1-0 on Saturday to proceed to the final, where they could only manage a second-place finish against the resolute Matlama, which did not concede a single goal in the entire tournament.
In the final showdown, Matlama raced into an early lead after Linareâ€™s goalkeeper Tankiso Nada failed to handle a tame Rethabile Mokokoaneâ€™s set piece shot.
Matlama received a M50 000 cash prize from sponsors, Alliance Insurance for winning the annual pre-season tournament, while the player of the tournament, Hlomelang Lebina from Matlama walked away with a M3 500 cash prize.
Reacting to the win, Matlamaâ€™s coach Halemakale Mahlaha said his boys displayed resilience and character throughout their game against Linare.
â€œI am really happy with my boys, they survived the pressure especially in the second half to get the victory they have been yearning for,â€ Mahlaha said.
He was especially pleased by his charges as they came into the match without some of their senior players such as Jane ThabantÅ¡o and Phafa TÅ¡osane who were absent. Yet despite this, they still managed to score a handful of goals.
â€œScoring four goals in two games is huge and I am personally pleased, and I hope the margin will improve as we go back to work on this aspect of our game ahead of the new season,â€ Mahlaha stated.
Leslie NotÅ¡i, the coach of Linare praised his chargesâ€™ performance despite their slender loss to Matlama. He said the tournament gave them a reflection on where they were in their preparations for the new season.
â€œI appreciate the support of Alliance Insurance by giving us this opportunity to reflect on our progress going back to yesterdayâ€™s match against LCS FC and todayâ€™s against Matlama FC, those were two very difficult matches with difficult opponents, so it gives us a chance to rebuild moving forward,â€ NotÅ¡i stated.
While Matlama and Linare may be looking forward to the new season with renewed optimism, the same cannot be said about Lioli, who had a wretched tournament.
The Teyateyaneng-based outfit conceded seven goals in the two matches they played in the tournament. Following their opening 3-0 drubbing by Matlama, Lioli went on to be humiliated 4-1 by LCS in the third-place playoffs.
If their off-season performance is anything to go by, Lioli will likely have another long season as has been the case in recent years.