Down but not out Copper Queens landed on Saturday morning at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport at 01:45 hours aboard Kenyan Airways.
Despite the first leg 2-3 loss to Cameroon, the national women’s football team was warmly welcomed by Football Association of Zambia vice president Rix Mweemba and other top officials.
Zambia Sports Fans Association patron, Pastor Peter Makembo, was equally on hand to welcome the team, fondly known as the Copper Queens.
Speaking on arrival, team captain Barbara Banda said not all was lost as the game was till on.
“So far so good. My teammates and I, we are still up despite the loss in Cameroon. But everyone is up to the game, looking forward to the Tuesday game and everyone is focused and the morale is still high in camp,” she said.
Asked how she felt after playing the midfield for the first time, Banda said it was up to the coach to choose which position she could play.
“For me as a player, I have to be determined and it was the first time playing in that position. But I think I did my best, I dominated well and my teammates were actually impressed with how I played in that position. But it is the decision of the coach on the Tuesday game what he will be up to,” Banda said.
She said playing at home would not give the team pressure as they need the fans most.
Banda said fans were critical to boosting the team’s morale.
“No, but I think we really need that support. And support to us is the 12th player to the team. So we need that kind of support and come in numbers to watch the game on Tuesday and for me and my teammates, our target is to go to Tokyo,” said Banda.
“I’m very much confident with my team because we are united. Everything we do, we are doing it as a team and my encouragement to the players is that we keep on working hard as a team; like the way we did in Cameroon. We don’t have to be relaxed; the game is not yet over despite the loss. We are not out; we still fight back and conquer them.”
And coach Bruce Mwape said injuries affected his game plan.
Mwape said he was aware that fans expected a lot from the team.
“Yes, somehow it (injuries) has actually affected the team. But we made some changes and we are yet to identify which player can play in that position because that one came to play in that position [ and it] was Barbara (Banda) and she is the one we are actually banking on in as far as striking force is concerned,” he said.
“But that can’t put us under any risk because the way she played is like she has been playing in that position like from the time she started playing football. But to me, she played well although that role we need somebody that is more defensive than her because Barbara as you know she is a striker and wants to attack all the time; and that can disadvantage the team, but she played well.”
Mwape challenged players not to be complacent in the next game.
“Yes, there is a lot of expectation because people saw how we played and they have confidence in them. And all I can say is that, maybe, appeal to our players not to be complacent because a lot of people are actually praising them, so we will try by all means to make sure that the girls should concentrate on that game,” said Mwape.
And Makembo ruled out a failure to qualify.
“You know when you send children to the war, we the parents know what we are sending. And we sent them in full force and it’s what you have seen. We are the owners of the team and we will always make them feel at home despite that loss. To us, there is no that defeat at all and it’s not yet over,” said Makembo.