Anyone hoping to bump into Zambia players at their hotel base in Burnaby need only wander in the direction of the public phones. There we found team captain Sebastian Mwansa, alongside the rest of the squad, waiting for his turn to call home.
The players have been away for more than a month now, and the pangs of homesickness are growing ever stronger. That said, they are not complaining.
"We've been travelling around for a while but we're not tired of it. All this time we've been working towards a very clear goal, and that's the only thing on our minds. As a squad we all feel like one big family now," says Mwansa with a grin.
The Green Buffaloes star was one of the standout performers in Zambia's opening game of Canada 2007. Skilful on the ball and adept at losing his markers, Mwansa is fond of using his blistering pace to surge past opposing defenders. That said, against Jordan the skipper's finishing left something to be desired.
"We need to improve our goalscoring ability. This team needs to get on the scoresheet as early as possible, and we can't allow ourselves to waste so many chances. In our next game we're going to try and be more clinical," he says, with characteristic optimism.
"We know that the first game is vital, but we're not disheartened. That's what football's about - if you don't score and let the opposition off the hook, you can't win," he insists. "But there's always a lesson you can learn, and we proved we could do that in the African qualifying competition. We lost our first game there and we still ended up qualifying. You can learn something from every game."
Timely attacking boost
The storms that have wracked South Africa over the past week prevented Zambia's star man Clifford Mulenga from reaching Canada for his side's opener, but the Pretoria University livewire has finally made it to Burnaby to join up with coach George Lwandamina's men.
"All the family are here now!" says Mwansa, delightedly. "We really missed him against Jordan. Now he's in the team we're going to take a lot more of our chances."
Next on the agenda for the African outfit are European contenders Spain, a country Mwansa would love to play his football in one day: "I want to become one of the best players in the world like Ronaldinho, and it'd make me so happy if I could play for FC Barcelona one day and follow in his footsteps." Indeed, it seems like the canny captain has a strategy all planned out. "The game will be shown on Spanish television, right? This is my chance to make a name for myself over there," he points out matter-of-factly.
Mwansa is a keen admirer of
La Liga, and is already familiar with Wednesday's
opponents. After Sunday's game against Jordan, the Zambia
players took the opportunity to head to the stands and watch
La Furia Roja at close quarters. "Spain play an
attacking style of football, like us. But they don't play very
quickly. They are a very organised and compact side," is
Mwansa's verdict, before adding confidently, "But I think
we're capable of beating them."
According to Mwansa, the Africans have a distinct advantage over their Iberian opponents: the fans. "A few days ago the Zambian community here invited us all over for dinner and prepared us traditional food. They were very kind and made us feel right at home. Their support in the stands really gave us a boost." He will be hoping for more of the same against Spain.