When you start a match on the bench, what could be better than to enter the fray and grab the winner in the dying minutes? Particularly if you have only just turned 19 and are playing at your first FIFA World Cup™.
That is exactly what happened for fleet-footed Belgian striker Divock Origi, whose performance headlined a highly positive day for Hyundai Young Player Award candidates.
Thrown on in the 57th minute of Les Diables Rougles’ clash versus Russia, in place of Romelu Lukaku, Origi foraged hard from the outset, chasing an opportunity he knew would arrive. And finally it did, Eden Hazard creating space on the left flank before sending in a perfect diagonal cutback for Belgium’s No17 to fire powerfully home and clinch victory for Marc Wilmots’ side.
A little later it was the turn of another young starlet, Algeria’s Nabil Bentaleb. Performing admirably in a ball-winning role, he and his team-mates racked up a thrilling 4-2 win over Korea Republic, thus keeping Les Fennecs in the hunt for a Round of 16 place.
And in another high-octane encounter, which rounded off the day’s action, came the appearance of the last of our Young Player Award hopefuls to get pitchtime today. That man was DeAndre Yedlin, who came on for Alejandro Bedoya on 72 minutes and immediately looked at home on USA’s right flank. In fact, it was Yedlin’s low cross into the box that eventually resulted in the Stars and Stripes' second goal.
Though United States were not able to hold out for all three points, the Seattle Sounders player can be proud of how he tackled his FIFA World Cup bow in only his fifth senior international. Team-mates and fellow Young Player contenders John Brooks and Julian Green did not get off the bench on this occasion, however, and nor did Rafa of Portugal.
After a day of football to savour, a clutch of other candidates are preparing for the final games in their respective groups. Dutch duo Terence Kongolo and Memphis Depay are in contention to start for Louis van Gaal’s side in the clash with Chile which will decide first spot in Group B, while at the same time Adam Taggart is likely to also start for Australia versus Spain.
Later on in the day, our sights will be set on Croatian pair Mateo Kovacic and Ante Rebic, who performed so positively in the Vatreni’s opener with Brazil. Their colleague Oliver Zelenika is also fit and ready to be called upon if required for the vital meeting with Mexico. In the other game in Group A, Cameroon prodigy Fabrice Olinga – at 18 the competition’s youngest player – is near-certain to play from the off against Brazil.