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Sports Features Sun, 16 Jun 2013

How to beat Lesotho 101

In certain circles, Lesotho is referred to as the ‘Kingdom in the sky’ and for a good reason too. It’s the only country that lies entirely 1000 meters above sea level. It’s a small country with a population of 2 million and is also uniquely surrounded by South Africa. On any regular day, the Basotho as they are called, go about their business in a quite unassuming manner. They are used to living paradoxically on a high altitude but on a low key. However, come Sunday, June 16, 2013, social life in Lesotho will take a rather different turn.

Ghana’s Black Stars will be in town for a 2014 World Cup qualifier and the Basotho will hope that the Likuena (crocodiles) as their national football team is called will bite and bore into the Black Stars to record a famous victory. That emotional high is what Lesotho seek against the Black Stars. For a team that hasn’t lost its last 4 games at home, the task ahead of the Black Stars couldn’t be more difficult. If the Black Stars are to beat the Likuena, then Coach Kwesi Appiah and his team should quickly take this short course on how to beat Lesotho. Pens, note pads and tablets out? Let the class begin.

LET THE BALL DO THE RUNNING

With Lesotho at such high altitude, most visiting teams to Maseru’s Sesotho stadium where the game will be played always struggle. Apart from the altitude which wears opposing teams down, the artificial pitch is also another barrier visiting teams contend with. Playing on artificial turfs brings enormous challenges; the ball runs faster, it is difficult to cut and change direction and as the game wears on; a player’s body becomes more sore. Add this challenge to that of playing at such high altitude and one thing is clear; if the Black Stars are to have any chance, the game should be sown up early, in order to conserve some energy for the imminent Lesotho onslaught, usually in the last 15 minutes of the game.

The best way to counter these challenges will be to employ a passing game by transitioning quickly from defense without sprinting too much. These long range passes could also hurt the Likuena since they play very narrow and could be undone by such quick counter attacks. This way, the Black Stars’ energies would not be sapped to make them susceptible to Likuena’s famous ‘last minute” forays. Because Lesotho’s players live at such high altitude, they are naturally disposed to longer levels of endurance. Five years ago, Ghana led this same Lesotho side 3-0, but the Likuena scored 2 quick goals in the 89th and 90th minute before Ghana escaped with a 3-2 win. So, to Kwesi and his team, make the ball suffer.

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ONE ‘ZAMBIA’ AT A TIME

Okay, so I know there are 2 Congos; one claims to be a Democratic Republic and the other likes to be associated with its capital, Brazzaville. However, at the last check, there was only one Zambia, formerly KK 11, and at point, Mighty Zambia. But as we speak, there is only one Chipolopolo of Zambia. The one that leads African Qualifying Group D with 10 points above Ghana (9 points), Lesotho (2 points) and Sudan (1 point) respectively. Only one Chipolopolo, who beat Ghana twice last year; in the 2012 Nations Cup and in a similar qualifier in Zambia. So, I can understand the yearning to put one over Zambia; beat them primarily to win the sole Group ticket for the final playoff and also exact some form of revenge and reclaim the bragging rights. Yes I know, but therein lies the danger.

The talk of that match; most likely the decider (assuming both Ghana and Zambia win this weekend) may just divert attention from the immediate task of claiming all 3 points in Maseru. So, the technical and management team of the Black Stars will have to work overtime to ensure that the Black Stars focus on Lesotho; the team Ghana is playing and not Zambia who themselves will be hosting Sudan. It is absolutely crucial that the Stars go in with the right psyche because even if the Stars overcome the harsh physical conditions, a lack of focus and one eye on Zambia might eventually cost the team. Ghana can only play Zambia on September 8th. Until then Lesotho must be the focus.

GO FOR TECHNIQUE OVER POWER

Having provided the blue print for overcoming the physical and psychological barriers, the last

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barrier is the tactical barrier. The Likuena usually like to patiently build from the back and do not transition quickly; they make a lot of lateral passes, mostly in their own half. They also rarely use the wings but on occasion, Tunisian based left back, Bokjang Mothoana, makes forays into opposing defense. He is also a dead ball specialist and also scored from a corner in the preliminary qualifier against Burundi. The Likuena also like to shoot outside the penalty box thus can spring surprises with long range shots. Main Striker Tsepo Lekhooana is quite mobile and would want to feed off the scraps that come his way. Midfielders like Ralekoti Mokhahlane and Motlalepula Mofolo who play with a good understanding, do not only work their socks off, but also provide attacking options.

Clearly, to beat Lesotho, the battle in midfield will have to be won using technique rather than power as the Stars will struggle to compete in the power game. Kwesi Appiah should thus provide a mix of players with both passing range and good technique. Rabiu’s intelligence in reading and picking out Lekhoona will be vital. Sulley Muntari and Kwadwo Asamoah will provide the passing range and a technically gifted player like Christian Atsu will be crucial in penetrating the Likuena lateral defense since their full backs are quite static. That done, the Black Stars should win and walk on cloud nine; that, will rightly be in alignment with the ‘Kingdom in the sky’, wouldn’t it?

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Source: nii ayitey tetteh