By Fred Kaweesi in Rio de Janeiro
Belgium v Russia (Today at 7pm Ugandan time)
East Africa has a relatively strong representation at the 2014 FIFA World Cup here.
There are not only three assistant referees Felecien Kabanda (Rwanda), Aden Marwa (Kenya) and Birumushahu Jean Claude (Burundi) officiating at this football spectacle, Uganda’s neighboring football rivals Kenya also have a playing ‘ambassador’ in Divock Origi.
Origi has become something of a sensation at Belgium’s base at Mogi das Cruzes, near Sao Paulo.
Following his impressive World Cup debut against Algeria, Belgium fans, international media and scouts are all of a sudden interested in the 19-year-old, born to a former Kenyan international Mike Okoth but representing Belgium.
Origi, who was raised in Belgium, has seen his profile rise in the last one year.
He is just the latest in a long list of players to benefit from new FIFA eligibility laws which allow players without a senior cap to switch allegiances at any age.
The ratification of the amendment came in 2009, and Africa has, in general, been the ultimate beneficiary of the rule change. Nations around the continent have collected forgotten talents from various dusty European repositories.
Apart from Origi, the likes of Younes Belhanda, Adel Taarabt, Victor Moses, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Shola Ameobi and Adnan Januzaj are but a few that have decided to represent their respective countries of origin.
Belgium's midfielder Marouane Fellaini scored his team's first goal when they played Algeria. PHOTO/AFP
It is indeed interesting how national federations are now bartering and haggling in attempts to convince bi-nationals where their best options lay away from club football.
Belgium are among the strong beneficiaries and will care less if Origi performs in this championship.
When Origi came on as a substitute for Romelu Lukaku against Algeria with Belgium 1-0 down, Belgium fans here were surprised that Origi was even part of Marc Wilmots’s 23-man squad.
Some wondered why Wilmots, would even consider him coming on to rescue their country’s cause.
But it didn’t take Origi long to defy critics from his adopted country.
His 30-minute cameo on the pitch against Algeria proved all his qualities as Belgium fought back for a 2-1 win.
Origi has long legs and powerful physique. His size makes him a handful for defenders.
He is also intelligent as his involvement in Belgium’s second goal proved.
When Eden Hazard turned and advanced towards the Algeria penalty area, Origi made a great run from the right to the left. He drew an Algerian defender with him, allowing Dries Mertens extra few yards of space to fire Belgium’s second goal and complete the come-back.
His price tag will continue to rise and rise if he can inspire Belgium to their second Group H win over Russia at the Maracana Stadium today.
Kompany sat out his team’s training session on Thursday due to a groin injury.
“No Vincent Kompany at training today, slight strain on the groin. He worked individually with medical staff,” tweeted Wilmots without giving an indication whether the Manchester City defender will play.
Russia's forward Alexander Kerzhakov scored the 1-1 goal against South Korea. PHOTO/AFP
On Wednesday, Eden Hazard was also sent for a scan after suffering a bruised toe.
That said, with such a talented squad, Belgium have every right to feel confident of matching the exploits of their 1986 team that reached the semi-final stage before losing to Diego Maradona’s Argentina.
The build-up to this game has attracted heavy security detail after ticketless Chilean fans breached security during their game against Spain.
More security personnel has been deployed around the stadium’s perimeter walls.
Over 50 Chilean fans were arrested after knocking down protective barriers and rushing through the stadium’s halls and press center in an attempt to find a way into the stands.
The arrested fans were briefly held and then released and given 72 hours to leave Brazil or face forced deportation.