ROAD TO TOKYO: Copper Queens Await Olympic Draw
With the 12 teams that will be battling it out at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (to be played in 2021) unveiled, the Zambia Women’s National Team will be the only team flying the African flag. The Copper Queens will join Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Great Britain, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and USA. Draws for the Olympics will be held on Wednesday April 21, 2021.
With Cameroon crashing out after losing 2-1 on aggregate to Chile in the play-offs, the continent’s hopes will be pinned on the Copper Queens that are already in camp preparing for the world’s biggest sporting event.
It will be the first time since 1988 that a Zambian football team will be returning to the Olympics and the first time ever for the women national team. There is every reason to be proud of the Copper Queens’ feat of qualification but performance at the tournament will be more crucial.
The FAZ media team provides a recap of the team’s journey to Tokyo 2020.
They began their campaign on August 28, 2019 with a 5-0 win over Zimbabwe at home before the Mighty Warriors failed to raise a team to play the return leg on September 1, 2019.
A hat-trick by striker Grace Chanda plus a goal each from the Kazakhstan-based attacking duo of Rachel Kundananji and Misozi Zulu handed the Queens an emphatic first leg victory over the Mighty Warriors.
Zambia then booked a date with Botswana in the next round with a 1-0 home win courtesy of a Mary Mwakapila goal before routing the Mares 2-0 away in Francistown with Grace Chanda netting a brace.
Against Kenya in Nairobi, Zambia’s skipper Barbara Banda scored one while Chanda added a goal as the two sides battled to a 2-2 result. It was Chanda’s sixth goal of the qualifiers.
In the return leg at home, it was a rare Lushomo Mweemba goal that sealed qualification to the next round where the Copper Queens booked a date with the indomitable Lionesses.
In the first leg of the final qualifying round Cameroon’s Aboudi Onguene scored a brace to give her side a 3-2 win against Zambia in the first leg of the African women’s football Olympic play-off final.
The striker scored an 88th-minute winner in an eventful game in Yaounde, handing her side a narrow advantage before the second leg in Lusaka on March 10, 2020.
The score was 1-1 at half time, after Zambia’s Grace Chanda scored the first of her two goals before Cameroon’s Ajara Nchout equalised before the break.
In the final qualifying round Mary Mwakapila and Hellen Mubanga scored as Zambia swept aside the indomitable Lionesses in front of thousands of supporters to book a ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Zambia’s Grace Chanda emerged top scorer with eight goals in the campaign.
Arising from the Olympic qualification journey Zambia has managed to export some players into foreign leagues.
So far six players are based in foreign leagues with skipper Barbara Banda (Shanghai Shengli-China), Hazel Nali, Mary Mwakapila (Hapoel Beer Sheva-Israel), Rachael Kundananji (BIIK Kazygurt-Kazakhstan), Hellen Mubanga, Rachael Nachula (CFF Zaragoza-Spain).
More players are expected to be taken up by foreign teams in the wake of good performances that has seen the team’s stock rise.
In preparation for the Tokyo Olympics the team has already played an international friendly with Chile that Zambia won 2-1 at the Estadio San Carlos de Apoquindo in Santiago on 28 November 2020.
The team suffered a 3-1 loss to South Africa in an international friendly played on 10 April at the Bidvest stadium in Johannesburg and will host Kenya on April 24 at Nkoloma Stadium.
Key players in the Zambian team who are expected to fly the continent’s flag are Barbara Banda, Kundananji, Chanda, Rhodah Chileshe, Misozi Zulu, Nachula and Mubanga.
On a personal level, Nachula will be making her return to the Olympics 13 years after reaching the semi-finals the 400metres athletics race at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.