Banda return boosts Zambia chances at COSAFA Women’s Championship

Zambia coach Bruce Mwape will be counting on the experience of leading forward Barbra Banda when he leads his side at the 2020 COSAFA Women’s Championship that will be staged in Nelson Mandela Bay from November 3-14.

Banda has been a sensation for Zambia over the years, and finished as the leading scorer in the Chinese Super League this past season, where she plays for Shanghai Shengli.

Banda scored six goals in the 2017 COSAFA Women’s Championship and added two more in 2018, before club commitments meant she missed last year’s event.

Her return is a major boost for Mwape, who will be without some other experienced names due to injury and club commitments, including last year’s scoring sensation Racheal Nachula, who netted 10 goals, and the likes of Hellen Mubanga, Mary Mwakapila and Rhoda Chileshe.

“Barbra Banda is here with us and she was part of the team that played a friendly against Buffaloes and she actually did well,” Mwape told the ZamFoot. “All I can say is that it [absence of players] will affect us but we will try by all means to do better than we did last year.

“The young ones like Natasha Nanyangwe and Maylan Mulenga are both doing fine. Although we are lacking the much-needed striking force, with the presence of Barbara I don’t think that will be a problem.”

Zambia have been drawn in Group B in Nelson Mandela Bay and have a tough pool that also includes old foes Malawi and Lesotho. Only the top team in each pool advances to the semifinals, along with the best-paved runner-up.

They open their campaign against Lesotho on Nov. 4, before what could be a pool decider against Malawi on Nov. 9.

Zambia have enjoyed a recent return to form having qualified for the 2014 and 2018 African Women’s Championships and showed that improvement at last year’s COSAFA Women’s Championships when they finished as runners-up to hosts South Africa.

They will see the silver medal as progression, with the Shepolopolo having three times before been bronze medallists in the regional showpiece competition. Lifting the trophy will be a genuine aim of theirs in 2020.

They played in the inaugural competition in 2002 when wins over Malawi (8-0) and Lesotho (3-1) saw them into the semifinals, where they lost 3-1 to South Africa. They beat Mozambique 1-0 to take the bronze medal.

The side topped their pool in 2006 as they drew 2-2 with Namibia and beat Eswatini 7-0, but this time were edged in a penalty shoot-out in the semifinals by the Namibians after a 1-1 draw. They beat old foes Zimbabwe 2-1 to take the bronze again.

The side could not replicate that in 2008 and in 2011 were surprisingly ousted in the pool stages.

They did reach the semifinals in 2017, topping a pool that also included Malawi (6-3), Zimbabwe (1-1) and Madagascar (7-1), but let a 3-0 leading slip against South Africa in the final 13 minutes to lose on penalties.

They then beat East African guest nation Kenya via spot-kicks after a 1-1 draw to seal the bronze medal.

Zambia again breezed through the pool stages in 2018, but came unstuck with a 1-0 loss to Central African guest nation Cameroon in the semifinals, before a loss by the same scoreline to East African guest nation Uganda in the bronze-medal match.

They claimed a team record 15-0 win over Mauritius in their 2019 pool opener, before a 3-2 success over Namibia and 0-0 draw with Botswana ensured they top the pool.

Zambia went on to beat Botswana 4-0 in the semifinals, but were narrow 1-0 losers to South Africa in the decider.

The team have twice appeared at the continental finals, but won just one of their six matches, against Equatorial Guinea (5-0) in 2018.