(Reuters) – Lois Openda is a relative newcomer to the Belgium squad after debuting in June but after impressive form in Ligue 1 this season, the Lens striker could play a greater role at the World Cup than he might have imagined a few months ago.
The injury cloud that hangs over striker Romelu Lukaku, which is likely to result in him missing most of the group stage in Qatar, has thrust Openda further into the spotlight.
It is likely that Michy Batshuayi will start in the number nine jersey in Lukaku’s absence, but Openda has gone from genuine reserve to number two in line and, should the form of either players dictate it, perhaps even starter.
“It is a real honour to be part of the 26 selected. I did my best to show myself this season,” Openda told reporters at Belgium’s training base in Kuwait on Wednesday.
“It’s impressive to be involved in a World Cup, but we need to keep our cool.
“When I learned of my selection, I was on the training ground with my club. After that, I immediately called my family. It’s a childhood dream come true.”
Openda had the chance to travel to Qatar with Morocco instead after they pursued him due to his mother’s ties to the north African country, but he only had interest in representing the land of his birth.
“There were contacts with the Moroccan team but, in my mind, only Belgium counted,” he said.
The forward, who has scored seven goals in 11 starts for Lens in Ligue 1 this season, netted on his debut for Belgium in their 6-1 thrashing of Poland in June, and now has four caps.
He could add to that when Belgium play Egypt in a final warm-up fixture in Kuwait on Friday.
“It’s up to me to be ready if I’m called upon. I have to learn and listen to the more experienced players,” he said. “What can I bring? Certainly speed in order to take advantage of the spaces created by other players. I showed the coach that I deserve my spot.”
At 22, he has arrived on the scene just as the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ of Belgium take a final shot at the World Cup title.
“We want to win this World Cup, nothing else. And show that Belgium is the best country in the world,” Openda says.
(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Christian Radnedge)
Disclaimer: This report is auto generated from the Reuters news service. ThePrint holds no responsibilty for its content.