Mayuka's blind faith

It is often said that forwards live and die by their goals, with their abililty frequently questioned when they aren't hitting the back of the net. Proving the exception to the rule is Emmanuel Mayuka, the Zambian striker who, despite failing to find the target thus far at Canada 2007, is confident he can put that right in his side's eagerly-awaited last-16 clash against fellow CAF members Nigeria.

"Mayuka is a very important player and one with a great attitude. In the time he has been here [in Canada], he's improved by the game. OK, so he hasn't scored, but that's not what matters. What's important is that he does a job for the team, and he's been carrying that out to perfection. Mentally, he's unbreakable," says Kalusha Bwalya, a member of the Nigerian delegation at the championship.

Mayuka's own assessment is very similar, with the player claiming not to have been affected by his lack of goals at the event. "I know I haven't scored yet, which is not what you expect from a centre-forward, but I still feel I've had a good tournament thus far. Still, I'll end that sequence against Nigeria, when I'll score two goals," he told with a broad smile.

The player certainly sounds composed as he chats in the immediate aftermath of training, sweat still dripping from his brow. Before breaking up, the entire squad linked arms for a communal prayer. "Yes, we asked the Lord's help for the next game. It's something we do before and after training, and it's become a habit," he said.

"We're like a family, you know. The rest of the group, who are my friends, will help me score and realise my dreams. With those same goals, I'll help them achieve theirs. That's how we work," he adds.

Objetive: Toronto
For the first time in the history of the tournament, Zambia have reached the second round, emerging from a quality group that also contained Spain, Jordan and Uruguay. Now, though, the team standing between them and place in the last eight is none other than continental rivals Nigeria. The Flying Eagles, runners-up at Netherlands 2005, go into the game with a slight edge on the Copper Bullets, having beaten them in the CAF qualifying tournament back in February.

However, Mayuka is not convinced that qualifying game has much relevance. "They are two entirely different situations. That was a group stage qualifier, this is the knockout phase of a World Cup. Yes, they are a tough opponent, but we're still going to win." The confident striker goes even further, saying: "The Nigerians are also a very good side, but this is our moment. I believe that if we continue to progress like we're doing now, we can also dream of reaching the latter stages. That way people would consider our country one of the powerhouses of African football."

So what can we expect from Zambia this Thursday? "Expect to see everything we've got: strength, speed and spirit," says this ardent admirer of Samuel Eto'o and Cristiano Ronaldo. "Meeting them is one of my biggest goals in football. The other is to play for my dream team, Manchester United."

The 20-year-old, whose four siblings will be following events from their home in Zambia, reiterates his prediction before signing off. "I think this time we'll win and, as I said before, it will be thanks to two goals of mine. Do I have a particular celebration lined up if I score? Of course I do, but you'll have to wait for that moment to see what it is."