Inspiration Katongo leads from the front

Zambia’s surprise 2012 African Cup of Nations victory was a celebration of the collective, but it also owed much to their inspirational captain Chris Katongo.

 

Katongo showed his leadership skills throughout Chipolopolo's six matches at the tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

The 30-year-old scored three goals en route to the final against Ivory Coast. And in the showpiece match in Libreville, he was successful from the penalty spot as Zambia beat the favourites 8-7 in a shoot-out after extra-time.

Zambia are now leading their World Cup qualifying group, but they started with a stutter when they lost 2-0 away to Sudan in Khartoum. It was Katongo who lifted the gloom of the nation a week later.

He scored the only goal of the game to beat Ghana in their second World Cup qualifier to revive Zambia's hopes of making it to Brazil.

The inspirational Katongo continued to be Zambia's tonic when they entered the fray of the 2013 Nations Cup qualifiers in September.

Again he found the back of the net for Zambia, giving them a 1-0 home win over Uganda in the first leg meeting of the final-round qualifier in September.

And his goal proved invaluable in the return leg in Kampala in October as Zambia lost 1-0 but made it through to South Africa by winning 9-8 in another penalty shoot-out.

No wonder the Zambian soldier (he’s also in the army) was voted the 2012 BBC African Footballer of the Year, beating off stiff competition from Demba Ba, Didier Drogba, Younes Belhanda and Yaya Toure to become the first winner from southern Africa in the history of the award.

Receiving the award, he told the BBC: "This is a fantastic moment for me. I thank the people who voted for me. It is something I will never forget in my career.

“I did my best and the people have spoken - that's the beauty of this award. "This means a lot for the young people and the young players who look up to me. I could not have achieved this without the support of my team-mates."

The award capped 10 years of ups and downs for Zambia's 2012 Africa Cup of Nations-winning captain.

Katongo initially made his name at Zambian club Green Buffaloes between 2003 and 2004.

Unlike most of his Zambia team-mates who rose from Under-17 and 20 level, Katongo was a late bloomer and his path to Chipolopolo stardom began at Under-23 level.

Katongo was part of the 2003 All-Africa Games team that finished fourth in Abuja, scoring just one goal at the tournament and another in the qualifiers.

He made his Africa Cup debut in Egypt in 2006 where Zambia exited at the group stage but not before scoring the lone goal in Chipolopolo's 1-0 win over South Africa.

A year later, he famously scored a hat-trick against South Africa in a 3-1 away win in Cape Town to help Zambia secure qualification to the 2008 Nations Cup.

At club level he’s been a bit of a nomad. He spent three years in South Africa with Jomo Cosmos between 2004 and 2007 before moving to Europe.

His first stop in Europe was at Brondby in Denmark in 2007 and later transferred to German side Arminia Bielefeld in 2008.

In 2010, left Germany for Greece where he spent one year at Skoda Xanthi and later moved to China in 2011 to sign with his current club Henan Construction.

It’s at club level with Henan that he suffered his only disappointment of 2012 as Henan were relegated.

Perhaps the BBC award softens the disappointment of relegation. The BBC award is drawn up by football experts from every country in Africa, who base their choices on players' skill, technical ability, teamwork, consistency and fair play. In 2012 a record number of people nominated their favourite online or by text message with just over 40% of the votes went to Katongo.

If Katongo can continue the form that has helped his country to new heights, as well as earning him individual recognition, he may well propel Zambia to the biggest stage of all in Brazil in 18 months' time.

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