After a day of browsing around their new location of Victoria and some light training at the Royal Athletic Park, star Zambian winger Clifford Mulenga took time to chat with FIFA.com about Canada 2007 so far, the future and the Copper Bullets' make-or-break Group B match against Uruguay on Saturday.
Having arrived late to the team only after their opening 1-1 draw with Jordan - he was playing for his South African club, Pretoria University, in their play-off bid to reach the Premier League (they lost) - the 19-year-old was a spark for the side in their second match against Spain despite their 2-1 defeat. Knowing that his side need a victory to catch Uruguay on four points, Mulenga maintains his obvious enthusiasm in the face of the favoured South Americans.
"(Uruguay) are a good team, we've seen them play, but we will absolutely win," he says to a rather stunned Uruguayan TV interviewer after training. But, this is more infectious positive attitude than arrogance from the gregarious youngster. When discussing the Zambia senior team's chances of reaching the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, he says similarly "we will definitely qualify for that one. Yeah, we will. We're getting there."
It's a positivity that seems to be there for the rest of the African side as well: "As soon as I got here I could see the boys were really up for the tournament, and the mood is still really high," the left-sided player explains. "It was a bit disappointing not to have got the points that we wanted in the last match against Spain. But then again, we have to keep looking forward, so we are preparing as hard as we can for tomorrow's game."
Good and getting better
The performance of the South-Central African nation has been impressive however, and they had the European champions on the ropes in the last quarter of an hour after pulling one back. Mulenga's acrobatic scissor-kick in the dying moments was almost the goal of the tournament. But, the player was not entirely pleased with his performance.
"I was just trying to find my feet in the game," Mulenga says, which is understandable given his full day of travel to get to the event. "My contribution was not up to what I want to give to the team. I played at about 80 percent I guess, but I really like to give my all. But, we had chances against them. We just didn't score them. That means they deserved to win."
But, he does think the talented Zambians are showing what they are capable of on world's stage: "People are probably seeing something that they didn't think they would see from a country like Zambia. I think we are still building, but this is going to show people how much talent remains in Zambia after the players that died in the (1993) plane crash. There are a lot of good things to come for us. We're here among the best in the world with the U-20s and we have a very strong U-23 side."
The player, who cites other left-footed wonders Diego Maradona and Zambia's own Kalusha Bwalya as his idols, certainly has a part in whatever bright future his homeland may have. Though the rather slight player has failed to catch on after a club spell in Sweden or a try-out with France's Caen, he was capped by the senior team by the age of 17 and he is sure to have more shots at European club football.
It's a bit much to ask him to think about the future while the present is such a blur, but he says with his usual smile and positive thinking: "I hope to get another chance in Europe very soon. This tournament is very important to those dreams, and I've been looking forward to it for a long time. I am so glad to have this chance, and I hope I can make a breakthrough."