Banda: Zambia are not going to the Olympics to make up the numbers
Barbra Banda is one of Africa’s hottest prospects
The 20-year-old inspired Zambia to Olympic qualification
She finished as top scorer in the Chinese Women's Super League 2020
2020 may have been a challenging year, but in footballing terms, Barbra Banda will remember it fondly. She ended a successful spell in the Spanish top flight on a high, finished as top scorer in the Chinese Women’s Super League and, above all, helped Zambia qualify for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament.
An away goals victory over traditional powerhouses Cameroon in the final of the African qualifiers in March secured the Copper Queens a maiden trip to a major global competition, with the 20-year-old captain setting up the clinching strike. And Banda finished the year in style, too, scoring one and setting up the other as Zambia came from behind in November to become the first African side to defeat Chile.
"It was a great year and I am really happy with what I have achieved so far," the 20-year-old striker told FIFA.com. "I think I have improved on my finishing and I have scored more goals. Of course, my coaches and team-mates gave me a lot of help and pushed me to do my best."
"And on top of all this, I am glad with what we have done with the national team. Before the final, we all talked about making history for our country and we made it. We feel pride at making history.”
Born in Zambian capital Lusaka, Banda started playing football at six years old, inspired by her father. "My dad was my mentor in the early stages of my career," she said.
Banda's unique footballing gifts didn't go unnoticed as she was recruited by Bauleni United Sports Academy. In 2014 she joined the national U-17 team, for whom she made rapid progress under Kaluba Kangwa.
"Coach Kangwa played a big part in helping me realise my potential," Banda said. "He believed in me and helped me grow into a football player."
With exceptional pace and a good nose for goal, Banda emerged as one of Zambia's hottest prospects. Her talent drew attention from abroad and she moved to Spain to join Primera Division side Logrono in 2018. By doing so, she became the first Zambian female to play in Europe. Banda hit 16 goals in 28 appearances over two seasons with Logrono.
"It was a great experience in Spain,” she said. “We had a great team and I had amazing team-mates. I learned a lot there: new tactics, systems and styles of play. I improved a lot and learned how to understand the game."
Banda would leave for pastures new, joining Shanghai Agricultural & Commercial Bank at the start of 2020. And looking back, she was satisfied with her debut season in China PR, finishing as the 18-goal leading markswoman and helped her club come third.
“It was hard to leave Logrono but I always want to try something new,” she said. “I am happy with my performance for Shanghai. Praise should go to the organisers of the Chinese Women’s Super League. The competition was perfectly organised.”
In her spare time Banda has tried boxing: "It helps keep me on my toes. It helps me think fast and learn to understand the importance of balancing attack and defence, which is also key in football.”
Looking ahead, Banda insists Zambia will be a team to be reckoned with at the next Olympics.
"It may be our first time to play in the Olympics, but we are not going just to make up the numbers,” she said. “It is a new challenge for us and we will take it as it comes. We will take it a game at a time.
“If it goes our way and I score as I usually do, we are hopeful of some solid achievements.”
“And I want to help Zambia to do much better in the African Women's Championship. I hope we can win the African title more than once. And, above all, I hope we can qualify for the Women's World Cup."