The Copper Queens of Zambia will play in their first ever knockout tie in the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations. This will happen after cruising to victory over a lacklustre Togolese side. The Southern Africans top the most open group of the tournament and will now set up a quarter-final against group A runners-up Senegal.
Zambia in full flow
It has been a difficult start to the WAFCON for Zambia. Before the tournament even kicked off the Copper Queens were rocked by the forced absences of Barbra Banda, Racheal Kundananji and Racheal Nachula due to failing “gender eligibility rules”.
Not only are the Olympic side rocked by losing their captain and two other key players, but the drama has followed them throughout the tournament. The Zambian Football Association has appealed the decision to CAF and FIFA and the resultant media storm around the team has been anything but ideal for their preparations.
Following the dropping of the three players, the Copper Queens lost a pre-tournament friendly against Uganda 5-0 leading expectations to be at an all-time low. But a respectable 0-0 draw against group favourites Cameroon gave the team the boost they needed.
They followed that up with a narrow 1-0 win over Tunisia, Avell Chitundu scoring a last minute winner for the Zambians. But it was in their final group game where we saw the attacking prowess of this squad.
Even without talisman Banda, the Copper Queens have plenty of attacking tools, headed by the impressive Grace Chanda.
The forward had an excellent match against Tunisia. Her movement was excellent, dropping between the lines to pick up the ball and spray passes out wide. Her raw pace was also on show as time and time again her runs from deep. She beat the offside trapand creating both of their first two goals in such fashion.
Naïve Togo punished by Zambia
Togo caused the upset of the tournament when they held Cameroon to a 1-1 draw in their previous group match. It was a sensational result for the debutants who played well and held the three-time finalists and 2nd seeded team at the tournament.
But the side were caught out against a far sharper Zambian side who exploited the Togolese backline time and time again. Inexplicably, against one of the fastest forward lines in the tournament, Kai Tomety’s side elected to play with a very high line.
Even after the Zambian had scored two goals from beating the offside trap, the West Africans persisted with the tactic. It is a reflection of the naivety of the side. They were shown to be lacking in experience once they fell behind early.
It could have been worse for the Sparrowhawks. They conceded a penalty in the first minute and only a sharp Amé Amouklou save stopped the team from going behind within minutes for the second game in the group.
But beyond last night’s performance, Tomety will be proud of her team’s performance at the tournament. They scored in every game and got a point against one of Africa’s biggest sides. Having come through qualifiers against Sao Tome and Principe (who didn’t honour the second leg) and Gabon, the Togolese players have almost no experience against top level opposition and they will take this invaluable experience back home to Togo.
Copper Queens on the verge of World Cup dream
For every side at the tournament, the expansion of the World Cup to allowing four African automatic qualifying spots. And with two spots in the repechagehas. this has brought a new level of motivation. Head coach Bruce Mwape has been clear from the start of the tournament that the only goal is the World Cup. Anything beyond that is a bonus.
If the Copper Queens qualified it would represent a huge achievement and signify the progress the team has made. Zambia’s first ever WAFCON appearance was in 2014. But since then, they played in the U-17 World Cup. And then last year made their first ever appearance at the Olympics, qualifying as the sole African representatives.
To make it to the promise land of the World Cup would not only demonstrate how strong this golden generation is. It would also give the country the platform and funds to further improve the development of women’s football in the country.
But they cannot celebrate yet. The Copper Queens still need to come through a tough tie against Senegal. if they win, they get that precious spot on the plane to Australia and New Zealand.
Zambia – Nali (gk), Mweeba, Belemu, Lubandji, Chanda (c), Mapepa, Katongo, Tembo, Lungu, Musase, Chitundu
Substitutes – Zulu, Sosala
Togo – Amouklou (gk), Kaglan, Gake, Gnintegma, Woedikou (c), Sama, Assigno, Houndjo-Tete, Konou, Kadanga, Gace
Substitutes – Dogli, Dogbe, Yaya, Adinda-Akpo, N’djambara