Tuesday Jul 20, 2021. 18:00
Shepolopolo Zambia brace for the biggest game of their lives this Wednesday when they face the Oranje Lionesses Holland in a 2020 Olympic Games Group F opener in Rifu.
2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup runners-up Holland are Shepolopolo’s first-ever European opponents at senior level.
The two sides are separated by 100 points on the FIFA Women’s Rankings with Shepolopolo at number 104 and the Dutch at number four.
But coach Bruce Mwape believes that despite playing just two friendlies against Chile last November that they won 2-1 away in Santiago and losing 3-1 to South Africa in April in Johannesburg, they can hold their own against the 2017 European champions including other Group F opponents China and Brazil.
“We are meeting a team that has got a lot of experience but our aim is to play a more compact game because, if we let them loose, they can use their experience,” Mwape said.
“But at the same time, the game is played in 90 minutes and it depends on how you plan it.
“They can have the experience but if we stick to our plan it can be a 50-50 game whether or not it is our first time here.
“In fact, other people have said we have come here as underdogs. We may be the underdogs but the way we played in the qualifiers to get to this stage shows there has been a lot of improvement in the team.”
Furthermore, eight members of the team have tasted European flavour before at the 2014 FIFA Women’s U17 World Cup in Costa Rica where they lost 2-0 to Italy and finished third in Group A to exit on 3 points with a win and two defeats.
Notable members of the Class of 2014 are captain Barbara Banda, midfielder Grace Chanda, defender Margret Belemu and goalkeeper Hazel Nali have risen through the ranks.
Shepolopolo also possesses a potent striker in the mould of Rachel Kundananji who plays for BIIK Kazygurt in Kazakhstan.
Kundananji was not part of the Class of 2014 but was a hero in Ghana where she was the teams’ top scorer on three goals and has the great potential to be Shepolopolo’s trump card in Japan.
“So it is not the first time we are playing in such a competition. We have also played in the Africa Cup and the experience gained from that competition will be quite useful in tomorrow’s game,” Mwape said.