Zambia have sealed qualification for the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations finals in Morocco in July after they played to a 1-1 draw with Namibia at the Dobsonville Stadium in Soweto on Tuesday.
Zambia advance to the finals on the away goals rule after the first leg in Lusaka finished 0-0 last week.
The Copper Queens had to do it the hard way, without the talismanic figure of striker Barbra Banda, and after falling behind in the tie.
Namibia took an early lead on six minutes when their skipper Emma Naris headed in a corner, and they were good value for that lead with a number of dangerous attacks.
That was the way it stayed until 20 minutes to go when substitute Siomala Mapepa poked the ball into the net to send her teammates, and the entire Zambia bench, into a frenzy of celebration.
They were able to hold on after that – not without some alarm – and so have qualified for their fourth Cup of Nations finals.
They reached the quarterfinals in 1995, before group stage exits in 2014 and 2018, though they will want a vastly improved showing in Morocco to back up their excellent display at the Tokyo Olympic Games last year.
But it is heartbreak for Namibia, who fought a brave fight and came close to coming through qualifying for the continental showpiece for the first time. Their only appearance to date was as hosts in 2014.
Even though coach Woody Jacobs’ side failed in their ultimate mission, they too can be proud of the improvement they have made in the last 12 months, and to go unbeaten against a powerful side like Zambia over two legs is a sign of the side’s transformation.
As was their excellent victory over COSAFA Women’s Championship winners Tanzania in the previous round, where they won both legs. That means they were not defeated in any of their four qualifiers.
Zambia can look forward to a visit to the continental finals that are due to be played from July 2-23 and are the first team from the COSAFA region to have qualified.
They could be joined by South Africa on Wednesday, as Banyana Banyana hold a 2-0 lead over Algeria ahead of the second leg of that tie in Algiers.
Hosts Morocco, Uganda and Burundi are the other nations to have booked their place in the 12-team finals to date.
The Cup of Nations will also serve as the qualifiers for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, with the four semi-finalists automatically sealing their place at the global showpiece.
The two next best sides will be involved in inter-continental qualifiers to see who makes it to the World Cup.