Olympic Footballers to Watch: Group F

Women's Olympic Football Tournament – Group F

The group stage of the women’s football tournament at the 2020 Summer Olympics consists of three groups, labeled as E, F and G. Each group contains four teams that will play against each other in a round-robin format.

The four teams of Group F are Brazil, China PR, Netherlands and Zambia. Here are the players from each team that we think will make an impact during the Summer Games.

Brazil: Debinha

It’s very easy for an important player to become overshadowed when they play alongside one of the most acclaimed players of all time. Fortunately for Debinha, this problem doesn’t seem to be an issue. While she plays alongside Brazilian legends Formiga and Marta, Debinha is still able to shine just as bright.

The 29-year-old North Carolina Courage attacker has an eye for goalscoring opportunities. Whether she’s setting up plays or finishing the ball into the back of the net, Debinha is a crucial part of any team she plays for.

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So far in 2021, the Brasópolis native has scored two goals in five national team appearances. Though her impact on the club level usually bests her national team contributions, Debinha and all of Seleção seem to be rejuvenated under head coach Pia Sundhage.

While Group F won’t necessarily be a cake walk for any one team, you can certainly count on Brazil to get the job done if they’re firing on all cylinders. Debinha herself has what it takes to push Brazil to the next level.

Taylor Kujawa

China PR: Wang Shuang

There were many raised eyebrows when China PR head coach Jia Xiuquan finalized his Olympic roster. Several of the selected players hold caps in the single digits, if any at all. This is just one aspect that sets midfielder Wang Shuang apart from the rest of the squad.

Fresh off a successful 2020 domestic league season with Wuhan Jianghan University, Wang will make her second Olympic appearance in Tokyo. The former Paris Saint-Germain playmaker currently holds 106 appearances for her country.

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With a sensational dribbling skillset and a precise passing ability, Wang is the kind of player that can create something out of nothing. She can break down any defense by taking on players directly or by looping a ball overhead to switch up the play. Given the right support in attack, Wang can be the sort of spark China PR need when going forward. When Wang is on her game, the Steel Roses will be lethal.

Taylor Kujawa

Netherlands: Lieke Martens

The Netherlands begin their Olympic journey on Wednesday, July 21st with a group match against Zambia. The match begins at 12:00 London time from Miyagi Stadium. One of the tournament favorites, The Oranje Leeuwinnen feature an attacking line to fear. Superstar Vivianne Miedema will command attention from defenders, as will the vaunted Dutch midfield. But Lieke Martens may just be key for the Netherlands to be successful .

The 28-year-old has had a stellar career for both club and country. Martens won the Euros 2017 with the Netherlands and was awarded the Golden Ball as the Most Valuable Player of that tournament. She followed that triumph with selection as both FIFA and UEFA Player of the Year. The striker has scored 49 goals for The Oranje since joining the senior team in 2011.

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Martens has had a tremendous year for her club side, FC Barcelona, as well. She was one of Barcelona’s stars in their recent UWCL championship. The striker had two assists for her side in the final, a 4-0 win over WSL side Chelsea. Starting the match on the wing as Barca finally gave her more time on the pitch, she showed that she belongs in the starting eleven.

The Netherlands will most likely start Martens on an attack line with Miedema and Jill Roord. Against a Zambian team that has limited international experience, coach Sarina Wiegman will likely juggle her lines as the game progresses. As the tournament progresses, look for Martens to feature more prominently. A proven big-game performer, she is calm and cool on the pitch when the pressure mounts. She will be looking to add to her Euro championship. Lieke Martens will be vital if the Orange Lionesses wish to claim gold.

Rick Pytlik

Zambia: Barbra Banda

It’s difficult to see Zambia as a medal contender for Tokyo 2020. After all, it’s their intercontinental debut, having never played in the Olympic Games or at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Yet, it might be a great chance for Zambia to further inspire women’s football in southern Africa. This is especially true considering the prominence of the team captain, Barbra Banda.

Banda is one of few Zambian players playing abroad. After 15 months playing for EdF Logroño in the Spanish Primera Iberdrola, she transferred to China just ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite strict guidelines for foreign players in the China Women’s Super League, Banda is one of the top players there. She led her side to a third place finish, netting 18 goals in 13 games and claiming the top goalscorer title of 2020. Her debut season in China shows exactly why she is the main player to keep an eye on during Zambia’s Olympic run.

Of course, her position is visible in the national team as well. She’s the team captain and also the team’s sole goalscorer in 2021. The reason for this is because the Copper Queens have played just a single game this year. That was against South Africa, where they lost 1-3 in Johannesburg in April. Their later matches against Kenya and Team GB were cancelled due to pandemic.

During the previous year, her goalscoring led Zambia to two solid victories. One included a hat-trick during the COSAFA Women’s Championships (8-0 against Lesotho) and the other included an equalizer against Chile (eventually 2-1).

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Her story as one of the few Copper Queens players playing abroad came from a place of dedication and sacrifice. She would not be where she is today had she not given up her other sport: boxing. With a 100% win record in her five professional bouts, the choice was difficult. But, leaving her home city of Lusaka to play football in Europe brought a need to give up boxing.

Being a team captain during such a historic moment for Zambian women’s football is also a great responsibility, not only on the pitch but off of it as well. Despite only being 20-years-old at the time, she launched the Barbra Banda Foundation in February. The organization promotes the empowerment of women against major social issues prevalent in her native country.

The opening of the foundation took place at Bauleni United Sports Academy. It’s there where she has the support of its co-founder and her former coach in the Zambia U-17 National Team, Kaluba Kangwa. That’s also where the Women’s Annual Challenge Cup was launched, showing the values that lay at the base of the modern Olympic Movement: bringing up children through sport.

Wojciech Nowakowski

Be sure to check out our other Olympic footballers to watch from Group E and Group G.