Before the Tokyo Olympics, most people may never have heard of the name Barbra Banda.
The Zambian announced herself on the world stage in style when she became the first player to score back-to-back hat-tricks at a single Olympic Games.
Playing in the biggest event yet in her five-year international career, Banda netted her first hat-trick against the Netherlands.
She then equalled Christine Sinclair’s single-tournament record of six goals, cutting through China’s defence to blast another three.
Extraordinary early chapters for the Zambian who set out to make history in Tokyo and beyond by boldly spelling out her goal, “to leave a mark, my own name, my own record book.”
Indeed, at 21 years old, Banda also became the youngest player ever to net a hat-trick at the Olympics.
The Olympics: A Games to remember
By half-time of their Olympics opener against the Netherlands, Zambia were trailing 6-1 but the ‘brilliant’ Banda playing on both right and left flank had already established herself as one of the attackers to watch in Tokyo.
The match finished 10-3 in favour of the other tournament debutants Netherlands, but the Zambian captain showed some bristling energy.
She scored all of Zambia’s goals including the last two within two minutes.
The multi-faceted forward then ensured her team, known as the Copper Queens, managed to get a point against China in a 4-4 draw.
Her three goals meant she surpassed Nigeria’s Mercy Akide-Udoh (4) as the African women's footballer with the most goals scored in the Olympics.
Her six goals also had tied her for the most goals scored by an African player at an Olympics.
Her compatriot Kalusha Bwalya scored six in Seoul in 1988 and so did Ghana’s Kwame Ayey at Barcelona 1992.
“I am aiming to become the best footballer in the world,” Banda told FIFA.com after the match.
The 270 minutes she played in Tokyo proved that she is indeed headed in the right direction.
The six goals in Japan were just a prevue of more magical moments still to come in the career of the former boxer.
She hung up her boxing gloves to focus entirely on football, despite winning all five of her professional bouts.
Football had been her first love, a sport she picked up from her father.
Banda made her debut for the Zambian U-17 squad at the 2014 World Cup at 16, but it took some convincing to get her parents to cheer her on.
“Most parents do not allow (their daughters) to take part in sports like football. They say football is for boys. I went through that. They accepted me as a footballer when I got my first national team call-up,” she told Olympics.com ahead of the Tokyo Games.
Barbra Banda: Road to stardom
In 2018, she landed in the commercial port city of Logroño, in Northern Spain. Signing for the city’s Spanish league side EDF Logroño from her home team Green Buffaloes made her Zambia’s first female professional footballer.
The teenage star had already committed to the Zambian military, a common trend amongst many African athletes, but she was released after signing a three-year contract with the club.
The 16 goals she netted in the 28 matches were instrumental in Logroño’s top-flight survival.
In January 2020, China’s Shanghai Shengli bought the speedy striker who used to play street football barefoot as a young girl for the staggering fee of U.S. $300,000, reportedly the third most expensive transfer in women’s football.
And she quickly proved her athletic potential.
She managed 18 goals, including three hat-tricks, in 13 appearances in her first season in the China’s Women’s Super League.
Her club finished third in the top-flight competition.
Tokyo is now in the history books, but it could be the start of another defining chapter for Banda who was instrumental in her team’s historic Olympic qualification.
Banda and her teammates received a heroic welcome back home, where a customised cake awaited them.
The then-Zambian president Edgar Lungu heaped praise on the Copper Queens.
“You kept your chin up against the best in the world. You are world-class yourselves. Well done girls. You have represented your country and continent well and we are proud of you.”
The Olympic Games took Banda's confidence to another level, though she admits that she still has “a long way to go" as a player.
“I have the confidence and courage because I know football the way it is. The one who wants it the most is the one who is going to get it.”
She still has lofty goals like her role model Cristiano Ronaldo.
A likely possibility to capitalise on her newfound fame is to move to a big club in Europe.
But it is not always straightforward, as South African star Janine Van Wyk - who plays for Glasgow FC - pointed out.
"It's such a shame that top clubs abroad turn a blind eye when it comes to African footballers because the international teams aren't developed as much as some countries around the world," she posted.
Banda has not yet considered her next move publicly for now.
“I have no say about that... It’s about my manager and the management that is managing me. For me, I just have to do my work,” she told zambianfootball.co.zm.
But wherever she goes, you can expect more moments of brilliance.
Zambia’s maiden Olympic appearance has seen her team shoot up 10 places in August’s FIFA Rankings.
The next stop for the Banda-led Copper Queens will be the Council of Southern African Football Association (COSAFA) Women's Championship set for 15-26 September. Zambia lost in the 2019 final.
They will then shift attention to the 2022 Africa Women's Cup of Nations qualification rounds set for October 2021.
That's a few more grand stages for Banda to be the talking point as she also focusses her efforts on her foundation which bears her name and aims to fight gender-based violence.
“I know people are talking a lot about me, that motivates me. That gives me courage to say okay, ‘if everyone is looking up to me then I have to do my best and show them how proud they are of me.’
"I must deliver good things for them. Play the way I play, make them proud so that they can be happy."