RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Teenage striker Divock Origi is Belgium’s World Cup hero of the moment. Just last month, many of his teammates didn’t even know who he was.
Yet Belgium has the 19-year-old Origi, who plays in France and whose father was a Kenya striker, to thank for a place in the last 16 in Brazil.
“I didn’t know him when he arrived but now I know him,” Belgium midfielder Marouane Fellaini said.
After being a late call-up to the World Cup squad as an injury replacement, Origi scored his first international goal to send Belgium through with a 1-0 win over Russia in Group H on Sunday. His big moment and crucial late clincher off the bench came at the fabled Maracana Stadium, no less.
“I always believed that I could go far but in football you never now. It does come fast,” Origi said.
That’s for sure. This past season was only his first full season as a professional with French club Lille but he’s now scored at a World Cup at one of the game’s best-known stadiums and is part of a Belgian team heading for the second round.
“It’s very special to score here in this particular stadium,” he said. “I’m very happy that we qualified for the next round. I’m very happy. Very special.”
Origi said his father Mike — who is the person who “guides” him — was in the crowd at the Maracana to complete the day. Mike Origi was a Kenyan international striker who moved to Belgium to play and won the league title with Genk. But despite his father’s semi-famous status, the young Origi was little known — even in Belgium — until coach Marc Wilmots decided to pick him as the replacement for injured striker Christian Benteke.
“I love launching young kids,” Wilmots said. “He is someone with discipline, someone with speed. Even most of the media didn’t know who he was.”
Origi has a flashy blonde streak in his hair, but his new teammates describe him as someone who appears level-headed. They also say he has got all the attributes to be a very good player for Belgium for a long time.
“He has a lot of quality,” Manchester United’s Fellaini said. “He can score goals, he’s quick, he has a good technique. He is a young player but today he showed everything.”
Switching easily between English, French and Dutch, Origi told reporters — without any hint of arrogance — that he wasn’t as surprised as everyone else with the call to go to Brazil.
“I had a feeling that I could be called up a month or two months before the World Cup,” he said. “I had a suspicion but I wasn’t sure … so it was good.”
Asked if he had any special messages from friends and family on his cellphone in the hours after the game, the teenager replied casually: “I didn’t switch it on yet.”
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP
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