PROFILE | A revelation at Lens, Belgium’s Loïs Openda is living up to his hefty price tag

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One of three players from Ligue 1 to take part in Belgium’s ill-fated and recently-completed World Cup campaign, Lens’ Loïs Openda can bear little of the blame for the Red Devils’ group stage exit. He featured for just a dozen minutes in Qatar, coming off the bench in the team’s win over Canada, but perhaps should have been given more a chance given his strong play this year, even if his scoring record for Le Sang et Or is hardly eye-catching.

A diminutive striker whose close control, pace, and finishing are his biggest assets, Openda joined Franck Haise’s side for a club-record €11m. Openda had spent the last two seasons on loan at Vitesse Arnhem, from Belgian side Club Brugge, where he had come through the academy after joining from Standard Liége as a teenager. In all, he scored more than twenty goals in all competitions, helping Vitesse to the knockout rounds of the Europa Conference League after a challenging draw in a group that included Rennes and Tottenham.

His play in the Eredivisie then earned him his first call-up for his country, no mean feat given the surfeit of attacking options at Roberto Martínez’s disposal. He duly responded with goals against Poland in the Nations League and in a pre-World Cup friendly against Egypt, but found himself largely left on the bench over the course of the tournament, despite the misfiring performances of Romelu Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi.

For Lens, though, he has been nothing short of a revelation, that not-inconsiderable fee looking fully justified as he’s found the net seven times, forming an excellent relationship with Florian Sotoca in attack. Playing at the front of a 3-5-2, the veteran Frenchman provides a similarly mobile, albeit more physical, presence alongside Openda. And while the Belgian has had to battle for time on the pitch with Wesley Saïd at times, but it’s clear he is on to something special, combining a bustling energy with deft movement and a good eye for goal.

Eric Devin | GFFN

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