World Cup debutants Zambia have been dealt a heavy blow on the eve of their Group C opener against Japan on Saturday after key attacking midfielder Grace Chanda was ruled out of the tournament, team officials confirmed.
It is a second major withdrawal for coach Bruce Mwape's side after first-choice goalkeeper Hazel Nali suffered a serious knee injury last week and was replaced in the squad by 18-year-old Leticia Lungu.
did not elaborate on the reason behind Chanda's absence.
"Grace Chanda has been taken ill and unfortunately she is out of the tournament. We have done everything we can to help her, she is getting all the attention she needs but she won't be able to take part," Zambia team doctor Faith Chibeza said.
Chanda said in a statement on her Facebook account she missed out the last days of team's preparation for the World Cup and won't be ready to play for Zambia in Australia and New Zealand.
"We carried the hopes of millions of Zambians when we qualified to the World Cup and finished third at the Africa Cup last year, and I am very sure that we will do the same this year, but sadly not with me as I will miss the tournament after getting ill," Chanda wrote.
"The last few days have been very difficult for me, having to be admitted to be hospital and missing out on preparing for the tournament I dreamt of playing but health comes first before anything."
Chanda, 26, is a former captain of the side and hugely influential player who has been a key part of Zambia's rapid rise in international football in recent years.
She has been replaced in the squad by 18-year-old Comfort Selemani, who was part of the preliminary selection but did not make the final cut.
Despite the setbacks, Mwape said on Friday the Copper Queens are confident they can be a match for any opponent in the tournament, buoyed by their shock 3-2 friendly win over world number two Germany a fortnight ago.
"As far as I am concerned, we are not underdogs. The only ones who might think that are our opponents. We don't think that, we regard ourselves as a big team that can challenge any other team in the world," he said.
"We have been preparing for this World Cup for the last two months and I feel we are ready for any team in the tournament."