Zambia's Katongo on mission to silence doubters

By Kennedy GondweBBC Sport, Lusaka
Felix Katongo (C) playing for Zambia against Chinedu Obasi of Nigeria (L) at the 2010 Nations Cup in Angola
Katongo (C) is happy to be in Zambia's 2012 Nations Cup squad having competed in Angola in 2010

Zambia midfielder Felix Katongo - whose career was almost brought to an end by the war in Libya - is a player driven by a burning desire to prove his doubters wrong.

The 27-year-old wants to use this month's Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea to relaunch himself.

Just a little over a year ago, Katongo's career was blossoming with South African side Mamelodi Sundowns, whom he joined from French side Rennes.

But after being released by Sundowns, Katongo, whose elder brother Chris is the Zambia captain, turned down an offer to play in Israel, opting for a more lucrative offer by Libyan side Al-Ittihad.

But the war that broke out in Libya shortly after meant that Katongo could not finish the season there. It is a chapter that he quickly wants to erase from his memory.

"It was really hard for me to cope with the situation in Libya when the war started because I have never lived in a country that has gone to war," he told BBC Sport.

"I could not move out of the flat to go to the gym or shops.

"The only thing that I was constantly thinking about was how to run away from that country because I feared for my life.

"I missed playing football and I missed going to the gym. If a player cannot keep fit, you don't expect him to be competitive."

Katongo has the Zambian government to thank for sending a plane that rescued him and his compatriots from the war.

Yet upon his arrival in Zambia, he had to endure a period of torment.

Some of his fans labelled him "finished" while former Zambia coach Dario Bonetti overlooked him for national team selection declaring Katongo "match unfit".

But Katongo did not give up. Following his return home from Libya, he featured for his childhood club Green Buffaloes as a guest player, whilst his eyes were fixed on forging a career abroad.

He had trials, albeit unsuccessful, at Zamalek in Egypt, at an unnamed Israeli club and even attempted to break into the Vietnamese league.

"I am very happy to have made it to the final [Zambia] squad and I want to thank the coach [Herve Renard] for the confidence he has shown in me," he says.

"My target is now to work hard and repay his confidence.

"People thought I was finished but it's not by coincidence that I have made it.

"My form is back and I want to use this Africa Cup to silence my doubters and relaunch my career."

Katongo knows that Zambia's Group A, which also contains Senegal, Libya and Equatorial Guinea, is difficult but believes that avoiding a loss in their first match - against Senegal in Bata next Saturday - may help the Chipolopolo to progress.