Talking points on Copper Queens' participation at the Olympics
Cameroon’s failure to overturn a 2-1 aggregate score-line last night in their goalless draw second leg match against Chile means Zambia women’s team are now Africa’s sole representative at the Olympic Games in women’s football come July in Tokyo, Japan.
The Copper Queens will be one of only 12 teams including Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, Brazil, Chile, China, United States of America (USA), Australia and hosts Japan.
Despite being debutants and this being their biggest stage thus far, Zambia’s appearance means the women’s side will not only be carrying the hopes of 18 million fellow nationals but also that of a continent.
It is a tall order but one which the Barbara Banda captained side also have to relish as they will be the first Zambian football team in 33 years to play at the Games since the men’s side in 1988.
They could draw inspiration from the legendary side of that time, who, despite being considered underdogs themselves went on to shock the world of football by reaching the quarterfinals of the tournament and also humbling giants Italy 4-0 in a match where veteran Kalusha Bwalya scored a hat trick.
WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR
All 11 opponents could be a threat for Zambia as each of them has made at least an appearance at the FIFA World Cup which is the biggest stage in football but their prowess going into the Olympics may differ based on their recent performances.
USA: The stars and stripes could be one, if not the biggest side to watch out for by the Copper Queens due to their impressive record at the Olympics where they have won four gold medals, with the recent being in 2012 in London.
Added to that is also their statistics at the FIFA World Cup where they have lifted the trophy on four occasions, the latest being at the 2019 edition.
They boast a host of talent in Alex Morgan and Megan Repinoe who have been a core part of their dominant attacking play.
Japan: They may not have gold yet at the tournament but were silver medallists in London, beaten only by USA, a year after they won the World Cup.
The Nadeshiko have proved to be a force to reckon with in recent editions of world football tournaments, tussling mostly with the likes of Germany and USA.
Being hosts will make them want to prove a point.
Brazil: Selecao have never won gold too or lifted the World Cup but their experience and frequent appearances at such big stage events like the Olympics are certainly something worth of a consideration.
Within their ranks is experienced striker Marta who is the top scorer at the women's world cup with 17 goals.
Netherlands and Great Britain: The two teams’ performance at the 2019 FIFA World Cup where they both reached the semi-final with the Dutch reaching the final means they are tricky too.
Although England will participate as part of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, they will be a key part of the strength of the team which will be managed by Norweigian Hege Riise after the departure of former coach Phil Neville.
Surprisingly, this will be the Dutch side’s first appearance at the Olympics. But they have developed so much in the last four years, winning the European championship in 2017 and reaching the FIFA world cup final two years later.
The two teams will definitely be a force. In the past two years, talents like Jackie Groenen (Manchester United), Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal), Ellen White and Lucy Bronze (both Manchester City) are some of the key names that have dominated the women’s European leagues.
Chances of Zambia playing to their best are definitely huge; if them reaching this stage is a benchmark for interpretation. It is a sign of development.
Their strength lies in scoring goals, and skipper Barbara Banda is a key figure in the delivery of their attacking football rhythm.
Banda, with the support of Grace Chanda, Rachel Nachula, Rachel Kundananji and Hellen Mubanga provides sufficient hope that the team can deliver the much desired spectacle that the tournament will need from a country and continental perspective.
Another key aspect will be the cohesion of the team, having played together since 2014 when they participated at the under-17 World Cup in Costa Rica they have created perfect chemistry that justifies their lethalness.
Works however may need to be done in defence looking at the quality of attackers that the tournament could provide in Australia’s Sam Kerr and Britain’s White or USA’s Christine Press or Repinoe.
Coach Bruce Mwape will have his hands full tightening up the loose ends at the back to prevent a leak in goals.
It is gratifying to see that the team has already intensified training with friendlies in the pipeline.
DRAW AND COMPETITION SCHEDULE:
Zambia will know their group opponents on April 21 when FIFA conducts the draws which will be streamed live on their Youtube channel.
The first game will be played on Wednesday July 21, two days before the official start of the Olympics and will run up to August 6.
Quarterfinals will be on July 30 with semis and finals set for the 2nd and 6th day of August.