COPPER Queens today take on the Scorchers of Malawi in the first leg of the Women’s Africa Cup qualifier match away in Lilongwe.

The Bruce Mwape drilled side landed in Malawi on Monday afternoon with 20 national women’s football team players, fondly known as the Copper Queens.

The team will be without captain Barbara Banda who plies her trade in China at Shanghai Shengli.

Also missing is Spain-based striker Racheal Nachula and Prisca Chilufya who plays for BIIK-Kazgurt in Kazakhstan due to complicated COVID-19 regulations in their respective bases.

Mwape will have to rely on Red Arrows prolific goal poacher Grace Chanda, and the presence of Spanish-bound Racheal Kundananji will give the coach more options.

Speaking ahead of today’s game, Mwape said it will not be easy.

“Malawi is not a small team. In football each and every team grows everyday, so we just need to take each team very serious because there are no under dogs in football,” he said.

“The game against Malawi it won’t be easy, it will be tough. We have already seen how the Malawians are playing, how they have played at the COSAFA; it won’t be easy. And looking at the way we performed at the Olympics, everyone is now on us; they want to put up a challenge just to surprise us. But we are ready for anything.”

Mwape is however happy to have the likes of left back Martha Tembo and Kundananji in the team after the duo missed the COSAFA tournament.

“We had a challenge with the left back during the COSAFA tournament. We used a central defender but now that we have Martha (Tembo) in the team, I don’t think there will be any problem,’’ Mwape added. ‘’And even in our left wing we had a challenge because the one that played at the COSAFA was a central striker. But at the moment we have capable players who are able to play on the left, like Kundananji.”

Asked if the absence of team captain Banda would affect the team, Mwape said he had enough players from the Under-20 to replace her.

“Somehow yes, it may affect the striking force but we have capable players that can actually do better. And I believe that the juniors have started doing well, so we should also encourage them because this is the right time we can show the nation that they can also deliver with or without Barbara Banda; they can actually deliver,” said Mwape. “I am happy with the performance of Ochumba Oseke Lubanje because she is now maturing slowly. Given enough game time she will be one of the best strikers in our team. We will try to be cautious especially in the first half so that we see their tactics, and if we see that we can open up in the first 20 minutes we will try and give instructions. And if all goes well, we will try to fight for an early goal so that we finish the game here in Malawi. Making it to the Africa Cup it will be an encouragement to the upcoming players like the Under-20 because this is now like the second time and the ones coming behind will also want to fight for places at the national team.’’

And striker Lubanje said the team had to put more effort ahead of today’s qualifier match.

“Tomorrow’s (today’s) game is not an easy game and we have put a lot of effort ahead of this game. And we need to take good results home; where we have come here in Malawi we need to pick up the maximum points,” said Lubanje. “Malawi is a strong side, we saw how they played at COSAFA; they used a lot of their wings to attack. We won’t underate them but we need to pick up points. If it does not go our way, a draw is better because we will beat them at home.”

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