By Darious Kapembwa
IT’S clear from the friendly games that the national women’s football team, Copper Queens, has played as preparation for the upcoming World Cup in three months’ time, that we are not improving.
To qualify to the World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, Zambia showed a lot of character in the Africa Cup finals where they won bronze in Morocco. But that was just that; WAfCON.
We all knew that the World Cup, the biggest global football event, will be much tougher and that was why everyone called on the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) to ensure that the team is accorded proper preparations to much up to what awaits our Copper Queens in New Zealand and Australia.
The draw was made and the group reflected what we truly expected; tough opponents in Spain, Japan and Costa Rica, all of which are ranked higher than Zambia on the FIFA rankings.
So, in order to get a test closer to the style of our group opponents, the FAZ first arranged two friendly matches with Colombia to get something closer to Costa Rica. We lost those two matches by 1-0 identical score lines in November 2022.
Then there was the Turkish Cup a month ago in which we played three games, where we beat North Macedonia 1-0, lost to Slovenia, a European side 1-0, and went on to beat Uzbekistan 4-1.
After that, FAZ organised another very high-profile friendly matches against South Korea last week.
It is in these two matches that we needed to show that we are something closer to the tournament because of the opponent and the environment in which the games were played and more so that we took the core of the team to Korea, with only two major absentees in Margaret Belemu and Lushomo Mweemba.
But everyone who has been actively playing was there, including some new additions like Inonge Kaloustan. We lost the first game 5-2, after having gone down.
The team tried to show some very good character and led going into the break but totally collapsed on resumption, with the Koreans playing to their strength and tactically outwitted us with our defence at sixes and sevens, and we showed no reaction.
In the second game, we hoped we had worked out on how to stop the Koreans’ midfield from overruning us again like they did in the first game but the opposite was the obvious.
The Koreans are the ones that revised the game plan of how to stop us from scoring, and for them stopping the best frontline on the African continent from scoring is a serious gain going into the World Cup where they will face an African country.
The two games against South Korea gave us a reality check that our technical bench needs help and not just in one area.
Chances are that Bruce Mwape was playing against a South Korean bench of 10 coaches specialised in different fields, some of whom were not even on that bench; the same scenario that obtains at a stage like the World Cup with all big teams.
From where I stand, Bruce Mwape needs an assistant coach of higher repute to help him analyse and advise on the proceedings in real time and there are coaches available who can help him on that score.
Secondly, Bruce Mwape needs a goal keeper coach like Davies Phiri or that level who can tutor our goal keepers to do things differently, at least much better than what we have seen so far. Bruce Mwape needs a physical trainer like Jammie Lawrence because everyone can attest that our girls, especially those that play in the local league, are in a very poor physical condition compared to Grace Chanda, Rachael Kundananji, Barbara Banda, Martha Tembo, and the foreign legion.
When going into a tournament like the World Cup, players need to be at par physically, mentally and psychologically and these things don’t just happen; you need specialised personnel.
Overall, we need to find a formula to play the girls as a unity when all the pros are available. What we have seen is that when Barbara, Rachael, Grace are all round, the team play as individuals compared to how they played at the WAfCON without Barbara and the two Rachaels. And you can’t blame the players; something is not happening somewhere.
That is why there is also need for a video analyst and GPS analyst to be added to that technical bench.
There is the June camping coming; FAZ should ensure that they equip the technical bench.
So far, the Association has done a tremendous job trying to prepare the ladies; seven international friendly matches already played, three months before the tournament is no easy feat.
But what is the purpose of playing all those preparatory matches and still go into the tournament unprepared? For example, during the 2017 Under-20 AfCON, Beston Chambeshi was given Wedson Nyirenda as his technical advisor. They camped together, trained together, did everything together and won the cup.
In the end, Beston has the winner’s medal in his cabinet. It’s only at the World Cup that Wedson remained because the time-table conflicted with his role as acting senior team coach. Who knows how far we could have reached if they went together to the World Cu?
There is nothing sinister here; what I am saying is, two is better than one. We need a consortium of coaches in moments of national interest like the World Cup. Bruce needs help. I submit.
I still remain Dario from Zambia.
Darious Kapembwa is a Kitwe-based veteran sports journalist
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