Africans find love in Canada

ROB BRODIE

, Last Updated: 8:11 AM ET

It has been quite the front-row seat we've all enjoyed at Frank Clair Stadium over the past two weeks.

That rarest of opportunities to see the future stars of the "world's game," something many of us might never see again in our lifetimes.

But the FIFA U-20 World Cup has been about much more than soccer.

Among other things, it's provided quite the geography lesson.

And not just for us lucky Canadians, who are getting an almost daily dose of global culture through this event.

Take this story of the team from Zambia, many of whom have never flown anywhere in their young lives until this trip to Canada.

They played their final group match in Victoria, which happens to mirror the name of the most famous tourist attraction in Zambia -- Victoria Falls, one of the original seven wonders of the world.

Both drew their names from the same source -- British monarch Queen Victoria -- but it took some doing to convince the Zambians of that connection.

"We tried telling them that Victoria Falls is the same as this Victoria," said Christopher Cottier, a volunteer from Vancouver who's been travelling with the Zambian team throughout the tournament. "But they didn't understand."

It took a trip to the B.C. legislature, which has a statue of Queen Victoria in front of it, before it all sank in.

"We told them she was a friend of (famous African explorer) David Livingstone," said Cottier. "After that, they decided they were at home."

Indeed, the Zambians and Nigeria, the African rivals who meet tonight at Frank Clair Stadium in a second-round match, have been overwhelmed by the support they've received from Canadians.

"The Canadian fans have taken us into their hearts, which has surprised us," said Zambia team leader Kalusha Bwalya.

"We're very, very pleased with it."

Nigeria striker Brown Ideye offered up a similar sentiment before his side's match against Japan in Victoria.

"We love it here," said Ideye. "We have been here so long that when we see people, they come up and ask us for autographs and want to take pictures with us ... Nigeria! Nigeria! is all we hear.

"It is truly like we have made many brothers and sisters here."

NO GUARANTEES: There was no bold pre-game talk yesterday from Zambia star striker Clifford Mulenga, who had earlier guaranteed his country would score a victory over Uruguay in its final group match in Victoria (Zambia won 2-0, with Mulenga netting the first goal on a penalty kick). But Zambian coaches kept Mulenga away from the media yesterday. So all we've got to offer up in this area is this comment from Nigeria's Ezekiel Bala. "The best team will win, and I expect it to be Nigeria," he told FIFA.com. Don't know if that really counts as a guarantee, though.

CORNER KICKS: Mulenga, who plays professionally in South Africa, is the only member of Zambia's team not playing in the country's domestic league ... Bala, who's with Lyn in Norway, dreams of landing a contract with Chelsea in the English Premiership ... The winner of tonight's match heads to Montreal for a quarter-final on Sunday afternoon against the Chile-Portugal winner.


Videos

Photos