Zambia no Women’s World Cup underdogs: coach

HAMILTON:

Zambia coach Bruce Mwape said Friday his “epic” team will run the “old people” in opposing sides off their feet at the Women’s World Cup – starting with former champions Japan.

Zambia are the lowest-ranked team at the 32-nation tournament but Mwape said they have enough firepower to upset anyone and hopes to prove it in their Group C opener in Hamilton on Saturday.

The Copper Queens stunned Germany 3-2 away in a warm-up game two weeks ago, completing a European tour in which the African side also drew with Switzerland and lost by a goal to Ireland.

Boasting one of the youngest squads at the World Cup and led by 23-year-old captain Barbra Banda – who scored twice against the Germans – Mwape was convinced teams would be foolish to write off his 77th-ranked side.

“Maybe the age will give us an advantage. Playing old people, I think they will not withstand that pressure from the young ones,” Mwape said.

“Experience is also important, but the games that we have played, I think our girls now have gained that experience.”

Goalscoring hasn’t been a problem for Zambia, with Madrid-based forwards Racheal Kundananji and Grace Chanda forging a prolific combination along with China-based Banda, who scored two hat-tricks at the 2021 Olympics.

A leaky defence at the Tokyo Games, including a 10-3 hammering from the Netherlands, meant they didn’t advance beyond the group phase but Mwape believes his players have matured at both ends of the pitch.

“They’ve been to the African Cup twice, they’ve been to the Olympics. So for me, I think they have the experience required to play in this competition,” he said.

“As far as I’m concerned, we cannot consider ourselves as underdogs.

“We regard ourselves as an epic team that can challenge any other team in the world.”

Japan coach Futoshi Ikeda is hoping to unearth the form that took the Nadeshiko to World Cup glory in 2011 and the final four years later.

They were bundled out in the second stage of the 2019 tournament and at the Olympics in Tokyo, resulting in a dip to 11th in the world rankings.

Ikeda welcomed a last-ditch television deal to broadcast the World Cup in Japan, hoping it could generate interest as his Japan seek to regain former glories.

“Now football will be shown to many more Japanese people and that helps our players as well, and our fight,” he said.

“Japan women’s football will grow and television broadcasting is important for that. We want to be able to move people emotionally with our game.”


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