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Zambia's Copper Queens Fight for World Cup Survival

FILE - Zambia's "Copper Queens" pose for a team photo before their opening match against Japan at the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, July 22, 2023.

Zambia’s women’s national football team say they are hopeful they can revive their chances of advancing to the Round of 16 after their next World Cup matchup against Spain, calling their first match "water under the bridge."

In a statement released Monday the Football Association of Zambia, FAZ, called on fans to continue supporting the team, "the Copper Queens," despite their opening 5-0 loss to Japan.

"We should not be oblivious to the fact that sometimes in football your opponents may play better than you as did the Japanese," the association's statement said.

"Our focus now should be on stepping up as we face the Spanish at Eden Park Stadium," it added.

Saturday’s loss to Japan left the Copper Queens in the last position of Group C, with no points and a negative goal difference.

Sports analysts have called Wednesday's matchup critical for the team.

Zambia will be forced to start their third-choice goalkeeper Eunice Sakala against Spain after first choice goalie, Hazel Nali, was pulled from the squad due to injury and replacement Catherine Musonda received a red card in the opening game.

Spain occupies second position of Group C, with three points after defeating Costa Rica 3-0 in their opening match of the tournament.

Japan currently occupies the first position, while Costa Rica is in third position.

Despite the negative odds of advancing past the World Cup group stages, team captain Barbara Banda expressed confidence in making the southern African nation proud.

"We learned something from the previous game that we had (against Japan)," Banda said at a press conference in Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand.

"We just hope to implement the right mentality in the next game that we are going to have," she added.

Costa Rica and Japan play Wednesday ahead of Zambia and Spain, a match that can determine Zambia's qualification to the knock-out phase. However, the Copper Queens must secure a victory against Spain with at least five goals to make up their goal difference.

This report was compiled by VOA’s Mike Hove with information from the Football Association of Zambia.