Zambia WNT to play Olympic qualifier in memory of striker Norin Betani

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Zambia women's national football team will play their Olympic qualifier against Ghana on Friday in memory of striker Norin Betani, who died from an unconfirmed illness just days before the fixture, at the age of 24.

Betani's death was confirmed by the Zambian Football Association and her club side, Indeni Roses on Wednesday, with the attacker receiving treatment at University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in the Zambian capital of Lusaka.

She had been training with the national side after reporting to the team camp while unwell, and had been sent to hospital for further treatment after initial assessment by the Copper Queens' medics on Monday.

"We are deeply saddened by the death of Norin, especially with her having made the provisional squad for the Olympic qualifiers," FAZ Communications Manager Sydney Mungala told ESPN. "She only fell out of the final team due to illness.

"We can only imagine how her teammates feel at this hour and hope that they can honour her memory with victory in Ghana in a match she had hoped to be part of."

Ahead of the southern Africans' meeting with the Black Queens in Accra on Friday, Betani's teammates and colleagues have been paying their own tributes to one of the rising stars of the Zambian game.

They also held a moment of silent reflection and prayer during their first training session in Accra ahead of Friday's fixture, to pay tribute to their fallen teammate.

"May her soul rest in peace," Zambia skipper Barbra Banda said in the pre-match press conference. "Being a captain is very hard, and it's difficult to convince everyone [to keep going].

"We are trying altogether to pull ourselves together. We know it's happened, and we're just hoping now that it doesn't affect our game and we have a reason why we're here, we have a task ahead of us."

Head coach Bruce Mwape added: "When we received the news, it was early in the morning, and most of the players were very, very sad. As was the coaching bench, it's something we never expected.

"Looking at the player herself, she was very promising, the first time when we called her she showed she would be one of the best players in the team. I can only pass on my condolences to the family."

Betani was first named in the Copper Queens squad in April 2022 when she was called up, by Mwape, for a friendly against Botswana, but was not included in the national side's squad for the 2022 Women's Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco.