Merely reaching the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014 is an achievement in itself for Zambia, whose senior national team lie 105th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking and 14th in the CAF Zone. And despite losing 2-0 to Italy in their opening match in Group A, the Zambians remain optimistic that they can upset the odds and advance to the knockout phase.
“We were pretty nervous and a bit too excited about our competition debut, but we are working hard and we’re going to put that right,” the U-17 team’s goalkeeper Hazel Nali told FIFA.com.
“We thought we could get a win against the Italians,” added Nali, who was beaten twice by Annamaria Serturini in Saturday’s defeat. “We saw that they were physically bigger than us and in response to that we tried to play to our strength, which is our skill with the ball on the ground. The thing is, we weren’t able to get back into the match and we couldn’t raise our game.”
Nali is one of Zambian football’s brightest hopes and recently received a call-up from the senior side. Little wonder then, that the U-17 team’s assistant coach Kape Saili rates her highly. “She isn’t scared of anything and she’s so good that she’s already up there with the best keepers in the country, which is pretty amazing for a girl of her age,” he said.
Beaten but not bowed
The former international, now the right-hand man of U-17 team coach Albert Kachinga, is delighted to be part of Zambia’s Costa Rican adventure.
“This is the first time that one of our women’s teams has qualified for a World Cup,” he said. “Whatever happens at this tournament, we are proud to have written this page in our history. The only Zambia team ever to take part in a World Cup before was the U-20 men’s side at Canada 2007.”
The 16-year-old Nali is aiming to do more than just participate, however. “We want to beat Venezuela and Costa Rica and I think we have every chance of reaching the second round,” she said, showing her spirit and determination to succeed. “Our main aim for these next two matches is to play a more attacking game and get in among the goals. I also hope to see us give less space away to our opponents.”
It promises to be quite a task for the Zambians, especially with their next outing coming against the table-topping South Americans, who are full of confidence after sweeping aside the host nation in front of a partisan 30,000 crowd.
“They are a lot quicker and more powerful than us in attack, and we’ll need to have our wits about us if we’re going to stop them scoring,” added Nali, who turns 17 on the day of the final and is determined to make the most of this opportunity to lay the foundations for Zambia’s future success.