Saturday 22 July 2023, 04:00

Zambia out to hit all the right notes

  • Women’s football goes from strength to strength in Zambia

  • Following Tokyo 2020, the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ is next up

  • World football’s governing body provides support through the FIFA Forward Programme

With the support of the FIFA Forward Programme, Zambia has shone brightly on the international football stage in recent years thanks to the exploits of its women’s national team. “We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved in women’s football. If you look at the last five years, we’ve twice competed in the Africa Cup of Nations, taken part in the Olympic Games, and we qualified for the Women’s World Cup,” said Andrew Kamanga, President of the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ).

“None of this has happened by chance. It’s all down to hard work, commitment and sacrifices. I hope to see us hit new heights at this World Cup, particularly in view of the fact that we’re preparing our next crop of players by investing heavily in our U-17, U-20 and U‑23 national teams. Under our strategy for the next ten years, women’s football and the development of youth players is at the heart of our priorities,” stated the ZAF President, who, in this regard, expressed his delight at the construction of a new accommodation centre. “It was made possible thanks to the FIFA Forward funding. It’ll allow us to make big savings and facilitate the work we do in terms of talent identification.

We’ve launched our first-ever women’s top flight, made up of the best 12 teams in the country, as well as a second tier, which also comprises 12 teams. We also have our regional leagues. All of that creates great competition and generates massive interest around women’s football,” noted the Zambian FA chief. “We have 72 teams in each province, and we have ten provinces, which gives us a total of 720 teams. Thanks to the FIFA funding, we’ve been able to provide each of the teams with shirts, footballs and a grant,” said Kamanga, who hailed the role played by the women’s national team, known as the Cooper Queens, in the overall development of the female game in Zambia. “The success we’ve had over the past five years has created great interest, and we have a well‑organised system to identify and cater for youth talents. Many of our women’s players have gone professional and ply their trade in Europe, which inspires our domestic players.”

Grace Chanda of Zambia poses during the official FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 portrait session

One such player is Grace Chanda, who enjoyed a fine debut season in Spanish football with Madrid CFF, but was cruelly ruled out of the FIFA Women's World Cup on the eve of their opening match against Japan. “We’re inspiring loads of girls at the moment. We’re putting smiles on their faces, while at the same time, giving them the motivation to train hard to make it in the game,” explained the Cooper Queens’ number 10. “When I come back to Zambia, the girls see how I train and look to follow my example,” stated the 26-year-old midfielder.

“We now have lots of leagues, so there’s a lot of competition there. Football in Zambia is developing and improving all the time,” noted the national-team ace, who is well aware that the African nation still has a long way to go before it can compete with Spain in terms of footballing infrastructure. “We don’t have good stadiums in Zambia. The coaches don’t have all of the equipment they need, which makes it very difficult to perform to your best. It’s only when we join up with the national team that we have everything we need, which allows us to work hard and make progress.”

Players of Zambia pose for a photo with local children during a Zambia Training Session in Hamilton, New Zealand

Women’s football in Zambia is continuing its rise thanks to the dual driving force of off field development and impressive results on the pitch, fuelled by the passion of a nation of enthusiastic fans. “If you were to ask your average Zambian, they’d tell you that they follow the women’s team more than the men’s side because they’re more successful,” said Kamanga. “We’re all rooting for our girls and hope to see them hit new heights by progressing to the next stage at this World Cup.

Morocco set a new bar by making it through to the semi-finals of the World Cup in Qatar. In the very near future, we can expect to see an African team reach the final and win the World Cup, be it in the men’s or women’s tournament,” predicted the FAZ President.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ may well come too soon for that particular dream to be accomplished, but their debut campaign will certainly allow the Coopers Queens to make themselves heard on the greatest stage of all. “When we arrive at the World Cup, everyone will soon know about us. Everyone will remember Zambia because we like to sing and dance,” said Chanda, who hopes to celebrate a successful campaign at the showpiece event in the following fashion.