Africa: Mwape Relishing Big Test At Tokyo Olympics

Copper Queens Zambia coach Bruce Mwape has described the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Women's Football Tournament draw made on April 21st at FIFA headquarters in Zürich, Switzerland as "expected and unavoidable".

Zambia, who will be making their Olympics Women's Football Tournament debut, was drawn in Group F against three previous FIFA Women's World Cup runners-up at the competition scheduled in Japan from 21 July to 6 August 2021.

Zambia will face the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup runners-up Brazil, who also won Olympic silver at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, The Netherlands who are the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup runners-up and defending European champions, and China, who won Olympic silver at Atlanta 1996 and finished second at the 2009 FIFA Women's World Cup.

"We are happy with the draws because when we qualified for the Olympics, we already had a very good idea about the exact caliber of opposition we would be expecting in Japan," Mwape said.

"So, there is nothing surprising and there is no way one can say these are tough or easy groups. We will respect all our opponents, but we will not fear them," he added.

The Copper Queens will be facing all three Group F opponents for the first time at senior level.

Zambia's route to the Olympics saw them first beat Zimbabwe 5-0 at home in a single-legged tie, before beating Botswana 1-0 home and 2-0 away. In the penultimate stage, they were held by Kenya 1-1 in Nairobi before winning 1-0 in Lusaka. Cameroon later handed Zambia their only defeat on the final round with a 3-2 win, but the Copper Queens won the second leg 2-1 at home to qualify on away goals rule. They will be making their Olympic debut in Tokyo.

"People must remember that we qualified on merit, and I am sure that even our opponents have heard about us and have some level of respect for us qualifying to the Olympics," Mwape said.

"Yes, we are going to a tournament to play big names like Brazil, but to say that Zambia is afraid of them is wrong because we will not be facing Lions but our fellow footballing sisters. We will prepare and face them on the pitch, and the 90 minutes will tell."

Meanwhile, the Copper Queenss have started their preparations with a couple of high-profile friendlies over the last six months, starting in November 2020 when they beat fellow Olympic finalists Chile 2-1 away in Santiago.

This April, Mwape's team later lost 3-1 to South Africa in Johannesburg during a month-long pre-Olympics training camp in Lusaka.

A third friendly scheduled for the weekend of April 24 in Lusaka against Kenya was cancelled due to operational reasons in the visitors' camp.

"We have started our preparations, but the only drawback has been the COVID-19 pandemic. It has really been a challenge securing friendlies, but while we are trying to organize for them, we shall continue to prepare for the Olympics at home," Mwape concluded.

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