Chanda – The dream has not ended yet
At just 23, Grace Chanda has played at FIFA World Cup, Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, and now the Olympics beckons over the horizon. In a space of six years, she has lived her football dream in the best way.
Chanda was also the first Zambian woman to score in a FIFA World Cup; in the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica, where the Copper Queens made their only female global tournament appearance to date.
She has since made gradual progression through the ranks, and her eight goals have inspired the Copper Queens to the 2020 Olympics Tokyo Games Women’s Football tournament finals.
It is the first time for Zambia’s women to take part in the quadrennial multisport showpiece and the second for the nation since the men played in Seoul 1988.
“I felt great. I had a feeling that I would be scoring goals but did not expect to be the top scorer. It is a great honor,” Chanda said.
“I was actually expecting our captain Barbara (Banda) to be the top scorer. She thrives under pressure with her intelligent play and speed, unlike me. I have the skills, yes, but lack the pace. But I use my strength in space to the fullest.”
The Copper Queens stunned favorites Cameroon on the last hurdle, winning 2-1 at home in Lusaka to qualify on away goals rule after a 4-4 aggregate draw.
“Cameroon is an experienced side, and their European-based players are technically gifted. But we fought very hard and were confident we would still qualify despite the first leg setback. We knew home ground advantage would be key and the twelfth man gave us hope,” Chanda said.
“Yes, COVID -19 disturbed our program, but it is a blessing in disguise. Now have time to recharge and plan for the Olympics,” Chanda noted.
“We are going to represent Africa and we promise the continent that we will not disappoint them. Yes, it is our first time to qualify and first time to play against European and American teams, but we will be banking on the support of the whole Africa.”
“We felt honored to be the first Zambian girls’ team to go to a FIFA World Cup. Never in our wildest imagination did we think that women’s football was that big until we went there, and the crowds were amazing,” Chanda recalled the 2014 memories.
“The World Cup experience was a great help when we qualified to the AFWCON in 2018. We had a good run but then we lost to Nigeria. The problem was that it was our generation’s first time to play against them, but we will be ready next time.”
Chanda also attributed the Copper Queens rapid rise over the last three years to the mentality and philosophy inculcated into them by veteran trainer Bruce Mwape who came to the women’s game for the first time in 2018.
“We really appreciate him for raising the standard for us to this level. Previously it was mostly physical, but coach Bruce has brought that level of experience he has had coaching top men’s league teams, and we are enjoying this new level. He calls us his European team and we always laugh about that in camp,” Chanda noted.
Chanda’s personal story as a footballer started way back in 2008 in her hometown Ndola, where she initially played for Kalewa Queens, her school team Ndola Girls, before joining Zesco United where she has been since 2014.
Interestingly, Chanda - like her favorite Zambian player, the Chipolopolo star Patson Daka - is a product of 2013 Airtel Rising Stars under-17 talent search program.
She also has football genes, with her elder brother Howard being a former midfielder himself.