Wafcon 2022: Blow for Zambia as captain Banda ruled out of Cameroon opener

Barbra Banda of Zambia.Getty.

Zambia have suffered a massive blow after losing three players, including captain Barbra Banda, for their 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations opener against Cameroon on Sunday.

The Copper Queens have been drawn in a tough Group B of the competition that kicks off on Saturday alongside Togo, Tunisia, and the Indomitable Lionesses. They will face Cameroon in their opener at Stade Mohammed V.

Ahead of the fixture, Federation of Zambia Association (FAZ) secretary-general Adrian Kashala has revealed they will be without Lubandji Ochumba Oseke and Siomala Mapepa due to suspension while skipper Banda will be unavailable for medical reasons.

“Oseke and Mapepa will miss out due to accumulated cards during the qualification process,” confirmed Kashala in a post on FAZ social media pages, adding: “Banda will not be available for selection due to medical reasons.

“Outside the three players, everything else is fine with the team looking forward to the opening match against Cameroon on Sunday. We urge the public to fully support the team as it lifts our national flag high.”

The 22-year-old Banda, who currently features for Chinese club Shanghai Shengli, hit the headlines during the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan when she scored a hat-trick against the Netherlands, though the Copper Queens lost the group fixture 10-3, the worst ever loss for the Zambia team and the highest-scoring women’s football match in Olympics history.

In their second group match, Banda scored another hat-trick against China with the match ending in a 4-4 draw, and in the process became the first female player in Olympics history to score back-to-back hat-tricks and the first to score two hat-tricks in one tournament.

In the 2020 season, she emerged as the top scorer in the Chinese Women’s Super League with 18 goals for Shanghai in 13 games, nine more than her closest rival Temwa Chawinga.

FAZ has, however, not confirmed if the three players will be available for subsequent group matches in Morocco. After taking on Cameroon, the Copper Queens will face Tunisia on July 6 and wind up their group campaign three days later against Togo.

The top four teams at the 12-nation tournament will automatically qualify for the Fifa World Cup set to be hosted by Australia/New Zealand.

Zambia final squad; Goalkeeper; Catherine Musonda (Indeni Roses), Hazel Nali (Fatih Vatan Sport-Turkey), and Leticia Lungu (Zesco Girls).

Defenders; Judith Soko (YASA Girls), Lushomo Mweemba, Anita Mulenga, Agness Musase, Martha Tembo (All Green Buffaloes), Esther Siamfuko (Queens Academy), and Margaret Belemu (Shanghai Shengli-China).

Midfielder; Mary Wilombe (Red Arrows), Misozi Zulu (Hakkarigucu Spur-Turkey), Evarine Katongo (ZISD), Ireen Lungu, Natasha Nanyangwe (both Green Buffaloes), Esther Banda, Maweta Chilenga (both BUSA), and Avell Chitundu (Zesco Girls).

Strikers: Ochumba Oseke (Red Arrows), Grace Chanda (Biik Shyyehp-Kazakhstan), Siomala Mapepa (Lusaka Dynamos), and Noria Sosala (Indeni).

Banda among Zambia trio ruled out of Cameroon clash

Will the Copper Queens make a flying start at Wafcon without their captain?