Barbra Banda's genius against Germany has put the world on notice (again)

This is going to be fun. The mercurial Zambian forward scored a brace and created another in a World Cup warm-up match for the ages against Germany.

There are tournament warm-up matches, and then there’s Germany 2-3 Zambia. A friendly match so enthralling that it felt as if the entire footy zeitgeist had knocked back two shots of espresso at the final whistle.

“We are awake” cried heads (probably) from multiple time zones, via many social media platforms. Hearts and minds pumping, bursting with endorphins, high on a few hits of pure unfiltered Barbra Banda.

In the 12th minute of second-half stoppage time, the Zambian forward scored an audacious match-winning lob from 25 yards out. And, by doing so, set the global game alight with the tantalizing prospect of more upsets to come when the World Cup gets underway in Australia & New Zealand on the 20th of July. This will be Zambia’s first-ever appearance at football’s biggest tournament.

On that instantly iconic goal, Banda’s decision to shoot when she did is genius. Her shot selection is world-class. And the execution of the cushioned-but-firm arced strike is remarkable. It all points to Banda being a forward who is perpetually switched on. Ready for anything.

Yes, there will be the caveat that this is a non-competitive affair. But show me this performance, whomever the opponent, whatever the occasion, and I see a player who is at their peak performance. Banda is mixing ingenuity with belief and firing on all cylinders.

Video Courtesy of CBS Sports | Attacking Third

The drama then intensified.

Surprisingly, it was Zambia, ranked No.77 in the world, who got out in front against the Euro 2022 runners-up at the Sportpark Ronhof Thomas Sommer in Bavaria. The Africans took an emphatic two-goal lead early in the second half.

Just a couple of minutes after the restart, Racheal Kundananji cooly predicted the skillful movement of Jule Brand on the halfway line. The Zambian nicked the ball cleanly from her opponent with her left foot and then set her teammate through on goal with her right.

Like her teammate, Banda gets a step on the Germans by making use of her both her feet. The Zambian uses two touches of her right foot to propel the ball forward. All the while setting the ball just out of reach of Kathrin Hendrich. The angle Banda eventually created allowed for enough room to hit a strong diagonal shot, that swings away from the goalkeeper, on her left foot.

With the ball skidding off the inside of the post and into the back of the net, Banda’s finish couldn’t have been any tighter or more true on the first goal.

Still, even that deft piece of technique arguably played second fiddle to her ability to anticipate the pass from Kundananji in the build-up. It is that vision, mixed with her quick reactions, that helps Banda to twist her hips, start the run, and target the space to make the goal happen.

Video Courtesy of CBS Sports | Attacking Third

Five minutes after taking the lead, Banda and Kundananji then switched roles to double Zambia’s advantage. The former played the role of provider and eventually the latter finished off the move to make it 2-0 from close range.

Just like the first goal, the chance arises from a German trying to maintain control of the ball. This time it’s second-half substitute Sjoeke Nüsken who is left frazzled.

The new Chelsea signing’s heavy touch was quickly pounced on by Banda. The Zambian used her strength to post up with her back against Nüsken. Banda shrugged the German to one side - which buys her an extra second - and then slotted the ball back into the penalty box. Lubandji Ochumba’s first attempt was blocked but Kundananji followed up confidently, unfazed by a sprawling and charging Merle Frohms.

As the match careered into the allocated 10 minutes of injury time, the Copper Queens clung to their two-goal lead. The drama then intensified.

First, Germany clawed the proceedings back to 2-2 courtesy of a Lea Schüller goal in the 91st minute and an Alexandra Popp header in the 100th minute. However, the shock of that late response from the hosts only lasted 120 seconds. Quickly that startling late comeback was eclipsed by the match-winning exploits of Banda.

With momentum in the Germans’ favour, few could’ve comprehended that a thrown-in for the hosts near the edge of the Zambia box could divulge into a goal for the visitors.

With 111:40 on the clock, Klara Bühl nonchalantly throws the ball back into play. The sheer sloppiness of the Germans’ play is astonishing. Substitute Ireen Lungu manages to both clear her lines and sparks Banda into life on the counter.

The rest is World Cup warm-up mythology.

Lubandji Ochumba (23), Evarine Katongo (12), Racheal Kundananji (17), Barbra Banda (11) | Courtesy of Zambia FA

“The opponent punished our mistakes”

The key to all three Zambian goals is the speed of play after re-gaining possession. For each goal, the time between the Copper Queens winning the ball and the ball hitting the back of the net is 0:07 seconds, 0:09 seconds, and 0:07 seconds respectively.

When trying to make sense of Germany’s inability to deal with Zambia at the start of the second half, many will point to manager Martina Voss-Tecklenburg making a double substitution at the break.

With lynchpin midfielder Lena Oberdorf and experienced defender Marina Hegering off the pitch, Germany’s spine looked muddled and unsure. A lack of cohesion arose as they experimented.

“The opponent punished our mistakes very effectively today,” uttered an understandably downcast Voss-Tecklenburg after the match. “We still have a few issues, that's clear. But morale was high."

Although, in all three goals, one could pinpoint something that Germany should have or could have done better. None of the goals are handed on a plate to Zambia. It still took quality to “punish” the Voss-Tecklenburg’s team.

And that’s what is so exciting about Friday’s result. It once again gave a platform for Banda to show that level of quality against an elite team in world football. By putting on such a show, she positions herself as up there with the most dangerous and talented centre forwards at this upcoming tournament.

It was only two years ago, at the Summer Olympics in Japan, that Banda opened up a high-profile international tournament with the exceptional feat of scoring two consecutive hat-tricks.

Despite exiting at the group stage, she would finish with the same amount of goals (six) as Australia’s Sam Kerr and Great Britain’s Ellen White. Only Vivianne Miedema (10) of the Netherlands scored more.

Whilst there has been joy surrounding Banda’s international exploits there has also been frustration and sadness.

Last summer, Banda was denied the opportunity to compete in the 2022 African Nations Cup due to the Confederation of African Football deeming her to have failed a test based on her natural testosterone levels. Zambia still managed to make the semifinals, eventually beating Nigeria 1-0 in the third-place playoff match.

With Banda set to be one of the stars of this summer’s World Cup, there are inconsistencies within FIFA, certain federations around the world, and other sporting authorities that still need to be addressed.

For now, having Banda in Australia & New Zealand is something to be cherished. Sit back and let the 23-year-old from Lusaka take your breath away. Dream of new nations breaking records and going on their first deep run into the World Cup knockout rounds.

Should she keep up her current performance levels it is likely top clubs from the NWSL and Europe will come calling to activate her potentially lucrative release clause from Chinese club Shanghai Shengli.

Wherever in the world she’s playing, just make sure you are watching. It’s not something new, it’s just a reminder. There’s a genius amongst the Copper Queens.

Zambia begin their Group C action at the World Cup against Japan on Saturday, July 22nd at Waikato Stadium in New Zealand.