African Women's Power Rankings: Barbra Banda and the Copper Queens dominate

Barbra Banda collected successive hat-tricks against Netherlands and China. Ayaka Naito / AFP) (Photo by AYAKA NAITO/AFP via Getty Images

Zambia's Copper Queens, who exited the Olympics at the group stage despite a valiant effort, make up the bulk of this month's African Women's Power Rankings, with Barbra Banda inevitably at the top after back-to-back hat-tricks.

There is also room for four African players who have starred in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), although several major stars from the continent have been out of action over the European off-season.

1. Barbra Banda, Shanghai Shengli

Banda's star was already on the rise after she finished last season as top scorer in the Chinese Women's Super League with an astonishing 18 goals for Shanghai Shengli. However, at the Olympics, she proved that she could do it against the best in the world.

Her first half goal against the Netherlands kept the game alive at 3-1 down, but the Dutch continued to run rings around the Copper Queens defence. Although visibly frustrated, Banda did not let this deter her as she stayed focused on her game and grabbed consolation strikes in the 82nd and 83rd minutes, rounding off a memorable individual performance with a hat-trick.

Astonishingly, Banda followed up with another hat-trick, bringing Zambia back from 3-1 down to 4-3 up against China before Wang Shuang equalised. Banda was on the receiving end of a nasty challenge from Li Qingtong which resulted in a red card for the China defender.

Against Brazil, with Zambia reduced to 10 women after Lushomo Mweemba was sent off, Banda was tightly marked by a Brazil defence which did not hesitate to give as good as they got from her in terms of physicality. The Copper Queens went down 1-0, but fought valiantly enough to claim third place in Group F, largely thanks to Banda's exploits.

2. Racheal Kundananji, BIIK Kazygurt

Kundananji headed home Zambia's first goal in the draw with China and won the penalty which Banda converted for their second. She then picked up the assist for their third, setting Banda up to stroke home into the bottom corner.

Kundananji, who plays as a forward for Kazakhstan's BIIK Kazygurt, is only 21 years old, the same age as Banda. Both look as if they have bright futures ahead of them and it will not be surprising if they go on to shine at many major tournaments to come.

3. Ifeoma Onumonu, Gotham FC

Onumonu was in fine form during the month of June, and although she was not quite as prolific in July, she still gave Gotham fans some cause for celebration.

The Super Falcons forward got the new month off to a fine start with a goal against Kansas City in the NWSL, although Mariana Larroquette equalised and the match finished 1-1.

Onumonu started the subsequent 0-0 draw with Portland Thorns before assisting Margaret Purce's winner in the 3-2 triumph over Washington Spirit.

She kept her place up top for the 2-1 win over Chicago Red Stars in Gotham's last game of the month.

4. Grace Chanda, Red Arrows

Amidst the hype surrounding Banda, it is easy to forget how heroic Chanda was in Olympic qualifying. Her eight goals saw her finish the CAF qualification tournament as the top scorer, playing an instrumental role in sending Zambia to Tokyo.

At the tournament itself, Chanda picked up the assist for Banda's second goal against the Netherlands and was a constant threat on attack.

Even with Zambia reduced to 10 women against Brazil, she posed problems for the defence and came close to nestling a sweetly-struck long-range free-kick in the top corner.

5. Avell Chitundu, ZESCO United

Chitundu was another key player for Zambia on attack, assisting Banda's third goal in the draw against China. Banda did the rest, rounding the last two defenders before calmly slotting home.

The forward was sacrificed for defender Vast Phiri against Brazil after Mweemba was sent off and Zambia's attack was severely blunted, showing how important Chitundu is for the Copper Queens.

6. Ireen Lungu, Green Buffaloes

Green Buffaloes midfielder Lungu assisted Banda's first goal of the tournament, against the Netherlands.

Her steady performances in the middle of the park continued thereafter as she orchestrated play and was a key conductor in a lethal Zambia attack.

Aged 23, but with plenty of international experience, Lungu looks like a player with a bright future on the horizon.

7. Estelle Johnson, Gotham FC

Playing alongside Gina Lewandowski at centre-back, Cameroon international Johnson lasted the full 90 minutes in all four of Gotham's July games.

The only match in which Gotham kept a clean sheet was the 0-0 draw with Portland Thorns, but Johnson has done well to cement her spot in the team. July comes to an end with Gotham sitting second in the table, three points behind leaders Portland with a game in hand.

8. Jennifer Cudjoe, Gotham FC

Cudjoe's game time was limited in July, featuring for 61 minutes against Kansas City and 35 against Portland Thorns. She started the former of these two games and came off the bench in the latter, with Gotham drawing both.

"Kaka", as she is affectionately known, will hope for a more sustained run in the side come August, having been an unused substitute in Gotham's last two fixtures. However, the Ghana midfielder is never too far away from consideration for a starting berth.

9. Hazel Nali, Hapoel Be'er Sheva

Nali had a mixed Olympic tournament in goal for Zambia. She committed a blunder early on against the Netherlands, venturing out of her area after possibly misjudging the flight of the ball, allowing Vivianne Miedema in to score the first goal of the game.

After conceding 10 goals in that match, Nali let in four against China, but she also made some vital saves throughout the course of the tournament to bail out an ailing defence. This was most evident in the 1-0 defeat to Brazil, which saw her pick up an injury while smothering the onrushing Ludmila, who had broken free of the defence.

After Nali went off, substitute goalkeeper Ngambo Musole replaced her and immediately conceded from a free-kick.

Nali herself did not have a perfect tournament, but she was put to the test far too frequently, and although her weaknesses were exposed at times, so too were her strengths.

10. Michelle Alozie, Houston Dash

Alozie, who has recently broken into the Super Falcons fold, has finally enjoyed similar exposure at club level for Houston Dash, having come up from their reserve side.

Alozie finally saw some game time for the first team in the 68th minute of a 2-0 win over OL Reign, replacing Jasmyne Spencer. She subsequently replaced Makamae Gomera-Stevens in the 69th minute of a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to the Chicago Red Stars.

Although she had a mixed start to life as a Dash first team player, the 24-year-old will hope there is much more action to come.