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Shepolopolo: Zambia's Copper Queens Conquer African Football

by Staff Reporter
27 Feb 2024 at 20:59hrs | Views
The Zambian women's national football team, affectionately called the Copper Queens or Shepolopolo, have been making giant strides in African football over the past decade. From qualifying for their first World Cup to bagging bronze at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), these ambitious ladies have proven they are a force to reckon with on the continent and beyond.

Humble Beginnings: Finding Their Footballing Feet

Shepolopolo's journey began in the early 90s when women's football was finally formally organized in Zambia. However, their international debut in the 1995 World Cup qualifiers against South Africa was a baptism by fire, suffering heavy defeats over both legs. Apparently the Copper Queens did not take too kindly to 5-3 and 6-2 thrashings, and went into hibernation for some years to focus on training.

The team reemerged in 2002 for the COSAFA Cup, Zambia's first regional tournament, and a popular one among seasoned bettors, who loves playing spina zonke games through the guide at the link. Shepolopolo caused a few upsets by trouncing Malawi 8-0 and beating Lesotho 3-1 to reach the semi-finals. Their fairy-tale run came to an end against hosts Zimbabwe in the semis, but they managed to beat Mozambique 1-0 to clinch third place. Julia Siame scored the winner, gaining the honor of the Copper Queens' first goalscorer in the trophy-earning games.

After the high of their debut tournament, the Copper Queens came crashing down in their first AFCON/Olympic qualifiers, suffering a 1-4 defeat to rivals South Africa. Clearly the team still had some work to do.

Near Misses and Close Calls 

The late 2000s saw Shepolopolo go from absentees to AFCON contenders, qualifying for the first time in 2008. Drawn against African heavyweights like Nigeria and South Africa, Zambia's group was dubbed the "Group of Death". True to form, Shepolopolo lost all their games, but playing giants like Nigeria put fire in their bellies.

The team showed great improvement in 2010, holding Mali to a 1-1 draw and narrowly losing 2-3 to South Africa. Their fighting spirit against the continent's best earned them respect and admiration.

2012 was a breakthrough year, with Shepolopolo qualifying for their first Olympics by defeating Angola 3-1. At the London Games, they made history as the only African team alongside hosts Great Britain. Though they lost all their group games, their first taste of a global stage was invaluable experience. The Copper Queens were no longer just participants - they were contenders.

Trading Bronze for Silverware 

In 2014, Shepolopolo qualified for their third straight AFCON, a feat in itself. A 2-0 win over hosts Namibia in their opening match sent excitement through Zambian fans. Though they suffered heavy losses to African queens Nigeria, Zambia's semi-final qualification proved they were a regional force.

A 0-2 defeat to Cameroon in the semis was hard to swallow, but Shepolopolo kept their chins up to take fourth place - their best AFCON finish. The Copper Queens were so close to glory they could taste it.

The team's historic qualification for the 2023 FIFA World Cup sent shockwaves through African football. A nervy 4-4 draw on aggregate against Cameroon got Zambia over the line on away goals to become only the second COSAFA team to qualify after South Africa. 

From a fledgling team in the 90s to World Cup contenders in 2023, the transformation has been remarkable. With star players like Barbra Banda emerging, these Copper Queens have molded themselves into a truly golden generation.

Dreams Coming to Fruition

Ranked 7th in Africa and 70th in the world, Shepolopolo have proved themselves a formidable force. But if their amazing journey has shown anything, it is that this team loves exceeding expectations.

Upcoming challenges like the 2024 AFCON will continue to test Shepolopolo's medal credentials. But with the taste of bronze still in their mouths, the Copper Queens won't settle for anything less than bringing a trophy home.

Off the pitch, the team still faces issues like lack of funding and facilities. But the players' unity, passion and determination knows no bounds. Shepolopolo have become ambassadors for Zambian sport, role models for young girls, and pioneers for women's football in Africa.

With the motto "One Zambia, One Nation, One Dream", these Copper Queens have proven that not even the sky is the limit. Their sights are firmly set on bringing World Cup glory to Zambia. And based on their giant-slaying journey so far, no one can bet against them!

Source - Byo24News