Zambia vs Netherlands (Match Preview)
IF quality is what you are talking about then this tie is a mismatch; a type that would leave betting merchants with an easy choice on who to give odds.
But that is the beauty of football and the glory of the Olympics as it brings together two continental giants who have both walked different paths to the glory of this stage.
On Wednesday, at 13:00hrs (20:00hrs Japanese time), Zambia will take on the Netherlands in their group F opener at Miyagi Stadium.
For the Copper Queens, this is the culmination of a road that goes back seven years at the under-17 World Cup in Costa Rica when a group of teenage girls first lined up to participate in that tournament.
Among those girls was the likes of skipper Barbra Banda, goalkeeper Hazel Nali and striker Grace Chanda, to mention but a few notables.
Majority of that team has since gelled and taken part in the women’s Africa Cup tournament in 2018 and reached COSAFA final a year later before securing qualification for the Olympics after they beat Cameroon in Lusaka, last year.
It has been a gradual progression that has finally found its meaning for the team with a match against a European giant in group F at the world’s biggest sports games – the Olympics.
Coach Bruce Mwape will mostly likely rely on Banda to orchestrate Zambia’s attack through her pace on the left wing while Rachel Kundananji and Chanda will be tasked to supply the finishing touch with goals.
Hellen Mubanga, the oldest player in the team at 26 will also be key in the final third and could be part of a puzzle to solve for Mwape, as regards who is best to start in attack. Oseke Ochumba and Hellen Chanda will also jostling for the same position.
Ireen Lungu, Avell Chitundu and Esther Namukwasa will be the players to choose from as recognised midfielders.
In defence, Mwape has a mix of new, old as well as young.
Margaret Belemu, Martha Tembo, Lushomo Mweemba and Anita Mulenga should be able to provide cover for Nali in goal. But the coach could also call on experienced Fikile Khosa and Vast Phiri to help.
The Copper Queens will be hoping their unfortunate preparations do not play against them with COVID-19 largely affecting almost all the games that would have provided some much needed experience before this match.
Zambia head into the game on the back of only two official friendlies played since qualifying for the Olympics so far – one against their neighbours South Africa whom they succumbed to via a 3-1 score-line and Chile who they beat 2-1 in Santiago.
In comparison, the Dutch have played four matches since the start of the year alone– winning two, including a 7-0 thrashing of Norway.
They will feel confident, more so that their team includes established names of women's world football like Vivianne Miedema, who in October last year became the Women’s Super League’s all-time top goal-scorer with Arsenal.
Midfielder Lieke Martens helped Barcelona to a treble last season while Lineth Beerensteyn saw Bayern Munich lift its first league title in five years.
Together, they boast an attacking threat to a team that has become a force to reckon with in Women’s football in just six years: Winning the Euros in 2017, before losing the FIFA World Cup final to a forceful United States of America team.
What coach Bruce Mwape said about the game:
"The team has a lot of experienced players and us we are coming here for the first time. But although it is the first time, we did well in the preliminaries for us to qualify to this stage.
We expect our players to perform well in this competition.
Our aim is to play a more compact game because if we let them loose, I think they can use their experience. A game is 90 minutes and it depends on how you have planned.
They can have the experience but if we go by our plan, things can be 50-50.
It's not the first time that we are playing in such a competition, we have also played in the Africa Cup so our players have now gained experience which they can use in tomorrow's game."
What Barbra Banda, the skipper said?
"It has not been easy but we are here for a purpose, the team is already determined and we are looking forward to the first game which is very important for us to carry the three points.
I'm not having any pressure for now, just waiting for tomorrow's game.
Three points is a must tomorrow, I'm confident that it's a must win game.
Though they have experience, we have quite a number of players who can play. We are able to play our game as the coach has said, if we play according to the plan for the coach then everything is possible."