Debutants Zambia have been dealt a heavy blow on the eve of their Women’s World Cup Group C opener against Japan on Saturday after key attacking midfielder Grace Chanda was ruled out of the tournament, team officials confirmed.

It is a second major withdrawal for coach Bruce Mwape’s side after first-choice goalkeeper Hazel Nali suffered a serious knee injury and was replaced in the squad by teenager Leticia Lungu.

Zambia team doctor Faith Chibeza did not elaborate on the reason behind Chanda’s absence, but a source told Reuters she had been hospitalised for treatment.

“Grace Chanda has been taken ill and unfortunately she is out of the tournament. We have done everything we can to help her, she is getting all the attention she needs but she won’t be able to take part,” Chibeza said.

Chanda, 26, is a former captain of the side and hugely influential player who has been a key part of Zambia’s rapid rise in international football in recent years.

She has been replaced in the squad by 18-year-old Comfort Selemani, who was part of the preliminary selection but did not make the final cut.

Despite the setbacks, Mwape said on Friday the Copper Queens are confident they can be a match for any opponent in the tournament, buoyed by their shock 3-2 friendly win over world number two Germany a fortnight ago.

“As far as I am concerned, we are not underdogs. The only ones who might think that are our opponents. We don’t think that, we regard ourselves as a big team that can challenge any other team in the world,” he said.

“We have been preparing for this World Cup for the last two months and I feel we are ready for any team in the tournament.”


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