By Jon Fisher at the Estadio Maracana
Belgium boss Marc Wilmots was quick to praise Divock Origi for his match-winning contribution against Russia – but admitted the teenager would not have made the squad had Christian Benteke been fit.
Benteke ruptured his Achilles tendon in April and was promptly ruled out of the World Cup. His absence, however, has offered a chance to 19-year-old Origi and he grasped it with both hands at the Maracana on Sunday, netting a late winner to help his side to a 1-0 win over Russia and qualification from Group H .
Wilmots was asked about the Lille youngster in his post-match press conference but was quick to remember the contribution Benteke made to his side reaching Brazil.
“I would like to mention somebody who has helped a lot in the qualifying phase and that is Christian Benteke. If Benteke was fit, Divock would not be here,” Wilmots said.
“But I saw a profile of a young player who is disciplined and fast. No-one knew him when I fielded him but you can see his qualities. He has technical skills and is quick. When the opposition defence gets tired it’s easy to count on him.”
Divock’s eye-catching contribution after coming off the bench means Wilmots now has a decision to make for their final Group H encounter with Algeria: stick with mis-firing Lukaku or promote Origi into the starting XI.
“Maybe one is slightly better than the other,” he added. “The star today may not be the star in six or seven days’ time. I need both of them and that’s why we are strong in the Belgian team.”
Chelsea star Lukaku was visibly annoyed at his withdrawal, gesturing towards Wilmots before kicking a water bottle.
The former Belgium midfielder was quick to play the incident down, insisting: “It’s not a problem, it’s normal, it happened to me.
“Of course he’s not happy. I will analyse it with him. He has to recover but the truth of today is not always the truth of tomorrow. If he scores a goal everyone will be pleased with him. Do I understand his frustration? Of course I do.”
Wilmots is satisfied with the strength of his squad and hailed the quality he has at his disposal.
“If you’re a substitute you may feel frustrated or you can make the difference when you get on the pitch. It’s the second option for us. We have players who can make the difference,” he said.
“I wanted to win this match. It was very physical and very warm. It was not the best football match ever but it was very intense.
“I knew I had people who could make a difference in the last 20 minutes. This is a key asset for us.
“We are the second youngest team at the World Cup but they are maturing. I tell them to be patient, not to lose their positions and they didn’t. We got the three points and have qualified.
“Physically we were stronger, fitter. If you dare sometimes you force the result and this is what we did in the last 10 minutes. That was our objective. We did that because the opposition didn’t have enough energy.
“In the qualifiers we got 32 points out of 36. It’s not coincidence and it’s not luck. My individual players know exactly what they are doing. Things are going as I planned. You have to be positive, if you’re negative you will convey that to the team.”
Wilmots denied he dropped Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen for the Russia clash after he clumsily gave away a penalty in the Red Devils’ opening match against Algeria.
“Sometimes you field one player, sometimes another. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the mistake. At the World Cup, people try to blame players and that gives nice headlines. I am not going to do that. If I am unhappy with a player I will tell him personally and it won’t appear in the media.”