Zambia women’s national football team are set to make history in the summer when they will become the first landlocked nation in Africa to represent either a male or female senior football side at a World Cup.
The Copper Queens are currently ranked 81st in the FIFA world rankings, making them one of the lowest-ranked sides in the tournament.
The first women’s Zambia match was in November 1994 when they lost 5-3 to South Africa. Since then the nation's footballing ability has progressed, although not in a linear pattern, with the majority of successes coming in recent years, the nation's women’s football team look to be in the strongest position they have ever been.
The Football Association of Zambia has backed the women’s senior side, setting aside a dedicated budget, although this is extremely limited. Due to this backing, there is a national women’s domestic league which has been established alongside regional and school competitions, to encourage the next generation of Copper Queens.
Despite the backing of the Zambian FA, women’s football in Africa in general has a long way to go still. Many African nations still face problems that include limited access to education, poverty within communities and inequality that often leads to female-specific human rights abuse.
The Copper Queens registered their biggest win in 2019 when they put 15 past Mauritius. Since then they went on to compete in the 2020 Summer Olympics and finished third in the 2022 African Women's Cup of Nations.
Zambia qualified for the 2020 Olympics after they defeated Cameroon in the final round of the African qualifiers. Although the tournament was not a massive success, as they recorded a 3-10 loss to the Netherlands, the highest-scoring game in a women’s football match at the Olympics. During this tournament, captain Barbra Banda became the first player in history to score consecutive hat-tricks at the Olympics in women's football.
The nation's Olympic participation eventually fed its growth as they reached the semi-finals of the 2022 African Women’s Cup of Nations after beating Senegal on penalties. The team’s third-place finish at the 2022 African Women’s Cup of Nations is what qualified them for this summer’s World Cup.
This summer’s tournament is one which will be a tournament of firsts and opportunities for the Zambian women’s football and an environment in which they will hope to thrive in.
Zambia will kick off their World Cup campaign against China in Hamilton on the 22nd of July. They will then go onto Auckland to face Spain, before heading back to Hamilton to meet Costa Rica.