Grace Chanda: The Jewel On Whose Shoulders The Nation’s Hopes Rest
In the midst of the Barbara storm that has engulfed Zambia’s participation at the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) in Morocco, stand-in-skipper Grace Chanda has stepped up to demonstrate that the country is never short of jewels.
The cloud over Zambia has so far been the gender eligibility test of star player Barbara Banda. Failure by FAZ to effectively communicate and properly handle the situation; CAF’s expression of ignorance on the situation and the reported FIFA involvement have overshadowed the emerging star performers.
While the Barbara saga could have been handled better than the case has obtained, Zambia’s 1-0 win in a pulsating encounter against Tunisia on Tuesday offered a sigh of relief for the nation.
The Zambian team has shown a lot of maturity and is displaying some good football and competing with passion. From goalkeeper Hazel Nali, to Xiomara Mapepa, Lushomo Mweemba, Margaret Belemu, Susan Katongo, Ochumba Lubandji to Avell Chitundu, an array of talent is on display.
In the absence of Barbara, Rachel Kundananji and Rachel Nachula, there’s another player leading the troops in carrying the hopes of the country at the tournament.
It’s not the armband that sets her apart.
Her diminutive stature is not even her undoing.
She’s marvelous to watch.
Her marauding moves are a terror to the opponents and she’s involved in every sense of the game.
I first saw Grace in a home match a few years ago and knew she was an emerging gem. She has not disappointed.
I watched her at the COSAFA and recently saw her transition to signing for BIIK Kazygurt in Kazakhstan. It was no surprise.
And now she’s commanding the Zambian women’s ship at WAFCON.
She reminds me of former Edusport star and ex-women’s national team player Mumba Muchindu.
She also showcases the commanding attributes and skill of the late Martha Mutale aka ba Martha.
Both Mumba and ba Martha were exciting and hardworking offensive players to watch.
The dynamite of a striker she is, Grace means business. Little wonder coach Bruce Mwape is often calling out for her, Gile! Gile! Gile!
The 25-year-old can’t afford to slumber. Her presence is huge. She’s a typical number 10 with some exquisite skill any team would want on their side.
Grace delivers incisive passes, posses excellent dribbling skills and has the ability to unleash ferocious strikes on target.
Her free roaming responsibilities help create space and above all, she has a near perfect eye for goal.
However, watching her against Tunisia turned the clock backward for me.
Her interview posted on the FAZ Facebook in the build up to the tournament didn’t seem to go down well with many soccer fans and commentators that saw it.
In that interview, she appeared to center the ambition of going to Morocco on herself – not the team. The desire to emerge top scorer and win Player of the Tournament Award overshadowed the real message.
When I first saw the interview, I was not far from predicting the backlash with some social media enthusiasts coming down hard on her describing the ambition “selfish”.
Others were very nice in their counsel of Grace to center her mission on the team, but some were outrightly mean.
It appears she got the message, but some of it to her and the team’s detriment.
On two or so occasions, Grace was in a good position to hit the target but she selflessly surrendered responsibility to others.
The goal Zambia snatched deep in stoppage time had her efforts marked around it.
Even the penalty that Ochumba sent skyways (not to say any other player would not miss), Grace – as team leader on the pitch – opted to play along.
Much as she may want to show she is not as selfish as the interview portrayed her, Grace should still be given leeway to unleash her full potential at goal.
The technical bench should prod her to “try goal” (Zambian football lingo for attempting the target) when in a decent position. Back passes in the opponent’s 18-yard box reduce chances to score, but square passes or direct strikes do the trick.
Coach Bruce must tell her to try when she can!
Her stats against Tunisia were impressive – 72% passing accuracy and 64 touches placed Grace among the top three performers in the Zambian team.
Zambia’s chase for a place at the FIFA Women’s World Cup is imminent. Go for it girls!
Photo Credit: CAF
Story by: Augustine Mokonka