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Ex-boxer Banda packing a punch for Shanghai

China Daily | Updated: 2020-09-01 09:17
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Zambian hotshot proves instant hit in Chinese Women's Super League

Zambia's Barbra Banda powers past a Changchun opponent while playing for Shanghai Shengli during a Chinese Women's Super League match in Kunming, Yunnan province, on Aug 26. XINHUA

SHANGHAI-Barbra Banda defied her parents on the way to becoming the first Zambian woman to play professional soccer in Europe, then captained her country to a maiden Olympics.

She is also an undefeated former boxer. Not bad for someone who is still only 20.

The latest chapter in Banda's journey saw her leave Spain for China, where she had to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks ahead of the new season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Underlining that Banda is not one to waste time, the prolific striker scored just 23 minutes into her debut for Shanghai Shengli in the Chinese Women's Super League on Aug 23.

And she did so in sensational style, picking the ball up just inside her own half before racing past two defenders and slotting home as Shanghai won 5-0. She added two more goals on Wednesday.

"I started playing football when I was a very tender age, it was somewhere between 6 or 7 years old," Banda told AFP by telephone from Kunming, Yunnan province, where the league is taking place behind closed doors because of the coronavirus.

"Actually by the time I started, I used to play with boys because the academy that I was playing for didn't have the lady's team."

That made Banda tougher.

"Whenever anyone made a comment about me I was just determined because I really wanted to play football," she said.

"I thought it was my career so I wouldn't mind what people say, I'll keep on playing with the boys."

Her parents, concerned that soccer was damaging her schooling and saying it was not a sport for girls, were another obstacle.

"In fact I just used to run away," said Banda, who was born in the Zambian capital Lusaka, laughing at the memory of her stubbornness as an 11-year-old.

"I just had to get my boots (from home) without them knowing that I'm going to play football because if they know this they won't allow me.

"I would throw them (boots) out the window, then go out the door, and they'd think maybe she's just going outside, and then I'd go round to get them."

Olympic dream

Banda has justified her devotion to soccer, spending 15 productive months in Spain with EDF Logrono before moving to China in January.

In March, just as the pandemic was bringing almost all sport to a halt, the then 19-year-old captained Zambia's women to qualify for their first Olympics, upsetting the odds.

It is fair to say that now her parents are fully behind her.

"It's just brought the happiness in the country and everyone now is talking about women's football because in Africa it's not really that developed," said Banda, who has scored at least 28 goals in 32 games for the "Copper Queens".

"So they were only concentrating on men's teams, but now at least they're talking about women."

The Tokyo 2020 Games were put back a year because of the virus, delaying Zambia's historic tilt at a medal, but Banda is looking on the bright side and says the team now has more time to prepare.

It is a reflection of Banda's sporting prowess that it is not inconceivable that she could have made it to Tokyo by another route-as a boxer.

Inspired by former world champion compatriot Catherine Phiri, Banda tried boxing at the age of 16.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, she had the talent for it, racking up five victories in five professional fights.

"Actually I'm good, I'm very good," she said.

Banda then had to make a choice, but after all she had battled with, there could be only one winner.

"My mind was too much into football so that's why I couldn't concentrate much into boxing," she said.

"I said I have to go with the way I'm more comfortable with."

Agence France-presse

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