The Copper Queens will open their World Cup campaign on Saturday against one of the three teams to have ever lifted the coveted trophy, Japan.
On paper, Japan are the favourites and the logical side to carry the day but the Copper Queens have never been sure to respect the status quo.
Coach Bruce Mwape’s side will however have to bring their A game to stand a chance against a formidable Japan side.
Japan have assembled a good squad led by the heartbeat of the Manchester City Women midfield, Yui Hasegawa.
The versatile midfielder will be one of the key figures in Futoshi Ikeda’s squad, armed as she is with a wealth of experience.
In the 2022/2023 English Women Super League she was named as the Manchester City fans player of the year thanks to her brilliant showing in her first season.
Hasegawa is one of the most experienced players in the Japan squad having made around 60 caps and She was also part of the Japan squad that competed in the 2019 World Cup, going out at the last 16 stage to the Netherlands.
Between the sticks, left footed Ayaka Yamashita is expected to be the favorable choice.
She was named as the player of the year in the inaugural season of the WE League – the country’s first fully-professional women’s football league – last year.
Yamashita originally played as a forward but switched to goalkeeping in her first year of high school.
Another key player for Japan is young midfielder Aoba Fujino.
At just 19, Fujino is already a vital player for her club side Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza. Making her debut for Nadeshiko Japan when she was 18, she showed her qualities on the pitch straight away to quickly earn a starting role and become a key attacking player for the team.
Fujino is quiet off the pitch, but very self-assured on it.
19 year old highly rated forward Maika Hamano is expected to be Ikeda’s go to as a game changer.
The player of the tournament at the 2022 Under-20 Women’s World Cup, Hamano is currently on loan from Chelsea at the Swedish club Hammarby.
Upfront Thailand born Mina Tanaka is expected to lead the attack.
A striker with a wide variety of shots in her arsenal, Japan as a nation was shocked four years ago when she was left out of the World Cup squad despite finishing the domestic league as both top scorer and player of the season.
Zambia will open their 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup campaign with a tricky tie against Japan on Saturday.
The two teams will meet for the first time at Waikato stadium in Hamilton at 19h00 local time (09h00CAT).