Throughout his footballing career, Christopher Katongo has proved on more than one occasion that he belongs to a rare group of players who can change the flow of a game when it matters most. The Zambia captain helped steer his country to their maiden continental championship at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in February, and in doing so, was named the Most Valued Player at the tournament. Most recently, the diminutive forward has been plying his trade at Chinese Super League club Henan Construction and has scored four times to help his side claim their first two victories of the campaign after an opening spell of three losses.
With his latest scoring exploits, Katongo has been making the headlines in his adopted country, but was quick to downplay his individual performances when he spoke with FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. "People say I am the sort of player who can make the difference, but this is not what I care about," said the unassuming No11. "For me the most important thing is not scoring goals and catching the eyes with your moves. The top priorities are that the team functions well as a group and we play good football."
From Europe to Asia
Having spent four seasons in Europe with the likes of Brondby in Denmark, German side Arminia Bielefeld and Skoda Xanthi in Greece, Katongo decided to make the move to the Far East and signed with Henan last June. While some foreign players have found it extremely hard to adapt to the environs of Asia, Katongo seemed to adapt quickly. In fact, the 29-year-old scored twice in eight appearances last season.
"Actually I speak only English and understand a little German," Katongo said. "But football is a universal language so I don't have a problem communicating with my team-mates here on the pitch. The C-League competition is hard, but this is football. I always focus on my training and play that is why I can maintain my performance level all these years with a series of clubs."
Having established himself with Henan in no time and hot off his title-winning performance in the recent Africa Cup of Nations, Katongo got off to an explosive start in the new C-League season. The dynamic striker netted two late goals to salvage a 2-1 comeback win at Guizhou Renhe, before going on to complete his second brace of the season in a 2-1 defeat of Changchun Yatai last week.
Katongo may not be regarded as big a star as Guangzhou Evergrande's Dario Conca and Nicolas Anelka of Shanghai Shenhua, but the four-goal tally saw him edge both to lead the league in scoring. "We are moving in the right direction. There are harder games and challenges ahead of us, but I hope we can finish the season among the top six as long as we play well as a team."
More dreams for Zambia
Katongo was instrumental in Zambia's history-making campaign in February's African finals, scoring his third goal of the tournament in their 3-0 quarter-final defeat of Sudan, before converting their first spot-kick as they edged Côte d'Ivoire 8-7 in a penalty shoot-out to win the final. The two sides had played out a goalless draw in regular and extra time.
Although there was more than one moment to savour, the player, affectionately nicknamed Chipolopolo by his adoring fans, singled out the award ceremony as the most memorable. He said: "It made me feel proud when I lifted the trophy representing my country. It marked a great step forward for the Zambia team and as for myself, it proved that I can compete at any level."
The continental laurels, however, are nothing to rest on for an ambitious Katongo, who has already set his sights on booking their first-ever appearance at the FIFA World Cup™. And the Zambia skipper believes the time is right for Zambia to build upon their continental breakthrough by securing one of Africa’s five automatic spots at the world of football’s biggest event.