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.
Chanda’s eight goals in the Olympics qualifiers also saw her emerging as Africa’s top scorer in what was an onerous, five stage qualification process for the continent's lone automatic ticket.
“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.
That result left Cameroon to seek the bonus route to Tokyo via an Africa versus South America playoff against Chile.
“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. Firstly, the support we got on social media was amazing, and we could not afford to let them down. I remember we sang till late in camp to boost our morale on the game’s eve,” Chanda said.
“When the final whistle came, all we wanted to do was go straight to heaven first before we go to Tokyo. We were the underdogs; everyone’s money was on South Africa, Nigeria or Cameroon,” she added.
Tokyo, though, will have to wait until the summer of 2021 when the rescheduled Olympics are due to be held after they were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“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.”
But Chanda will not be in a hurry to meet her idol; USA striker Alex Morgan when she gets to Tokyo.
“We will be ready for any team. But first, we just hope to avoid the USA in the group stage,” she said.
Meanwhile, Chanda is one of six members of the class of 2014 who now form the bedrock of this third generation Zambia women’s senior setup.
That band of sisters has set the standard since graduating to the majors in 2017.
They produced Zambia’s best run at the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (AFWCON) in Ghana 2018 despite a group stage exit. A 5-0 win over Equatorial Guinea was followed by a defeat to eventual champions Nigeria, before drawing with tournament runners-up South Africa.