Copper Queens Begin Quest For AWCON Qualification
The Zambia Women National Team’s hunt for their fourth Africa Women Cup of Nations (AWCON) appearance begins this afternoon when they face Malawi in the first round, first leg qualifier in Lilongwe.
The Copper Queens, who have had a memorable year so far, lighting up the globe with their maiden appearance at the Olympic Games before minting bronze at the expense of South Africa at the 2021 COSAFA Women’s Championship, will be looking for positive results in the qualifiers to end the year on an even higher note.
This afternoon’s first round, first leg qualifier set for 15:00hours at the Bingu National stadium in Lilongwe also offers the Bruce Mwape led queens to gain an early advantage in the back-to-back qualifier against the Scorchers of Malawi.
Looking to be aggregate winners and earn their place in the second and final round of the qualifiers against Tanzania or Namibia, Mwape is expected to field a strong side boosted by the return of Green Buffaloes left-back Martha Tembo who missed the regional tournament in Gqeberha.
“We shall fight for an early goal. Our aim is to get to the AWCON. It will be good for our young players. It’s time for them to rise to the occasion and show they can deliver,” Mwape said.
“I am also happy with Ochumba (Oseke), she is slowly maturing and will be one of the best strikers the country will have.”
In goal, a selection headache awaits Mwape following the return of first-choice goalkeeper Hazel Nali who is expected to compete for the number one spot with 2021 COSAFA Women’s Championship Best Goalkeeper Ng’ambo Musole and bronze-medal match hero, Catherine Musonda, who kept out two penalties in the shootout win.
At right-back, Red Arrows defender Margaret Belemu is a sure starter and so is Lushomo Mweemba in central defence, with Agness Musesa and Patricia Lampi expected to fight for the remaining piece.
In midfield, Spain-based Rachael Kundananji is expected to lead the line alongside Mary Wilombe and Elizabeth Mupeso and Mwape has youth and creativity to rely on in Under-20 captain Susan Evarine Katongo. Lubasi Pumulo is another option.
Red Arrows goal scoring machine Grace Chanda, Green Buffaloes’ Maylan Mulenga and towering striker Ochumba Oseke Lubanji are expected upfront and Mwape may look no further for back-up as Under-20 strikers Xiomara Mapepa and Lungowe Namasiku are also available for selection.
While the Copper Queens were dealt a blow in China-based skipper Barbara Banda and several other foreign players missing the encounter, Malawi will also be missing the services of the Chawinga sisters-Tabitha and Temwa, due to Covid-19 restrictions.
But the Scorchers are no pushovers having proven at the 2021 COSAFA Women’s Championship that they are ready to compete on Africa’s biggest stage when they finished second at the regional showpiece.
The return leg will be played at Nkoloma stadium on Tuesday 26 October.