Origi and Wanyama put Kenya on Champions League map

Friday May 31 2019

Tottenham Hotspur's Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama (right) vies with Barcelona's Argentinian striker Lionel Messi during their Champions League group B match at Wembley Stadium in London, on October 3, 2018. PHOTO | ADRIAN DENNIS |

Tottenham Hotspur's Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama (right) vies with Barcelona's Argentinian striker Lionel Messi during their Champions League group B match at Wembley Stadium in London, on October 3, 2018. PHOTO | ADRIAN DENNIS |  AFP

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By AFP
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Liverpool striker Divock Origi and Tottenham Hotspur's Victor Wanyama are the talk of Kenya ahead of Saturday's European Champions League final in Madrid.

In football-mad Kenya, a nation of 50 million, there is hope the two athletes can shine a positive spotlight on it as fans relish the prospect of a key Kenyan role, even if Origi is Belgian born.

While Kenyan fans already have the feast of the Africa Cup on Nations to look forwards to in June the Champions League final is dividing opinion on the training ground at Nairobi club Ligi Ndogo.

"This is the first time two players of Kenyan origin will take part in a Champion's League final," says 28-year-old youth coach Kenneth Amolo.

"Wanyama and Origi will represent Kenya on the world stage, it's great."

Another youth coach taking a break from action, Lawrence Omondi, tells AFP he'll be supporting Spurs.

"Wanyama is the captain of our national side, and he is our best player, so we have to back him."

Liverpool's Belgian striker Divock Origi (second lefy) takes part in a team training session at Melwood in Liverpool, north west England on May 6, 2019, on the eve of their UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg match against Barcelona. PHOTO | LINDSEY PARNABY |

Liverpool's Belgian striker Divock Origi (second left) takes part in a team training session at Melwood in Liverpool, north west England on May 6, 2019, on the eve of their UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg match against Barcelona. PHOTO | LINDSEY PARNABY |AFP

 Liverpool's Belgium striker Divock Origi (right) celebrates with Liverpool's Swiss midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri after scoring their fourth goal during their Uefa Champions league semi-final second leg match against Barcelona at Anfield on May 7, 2019. PHOTO | PAUL ELLIS |

Liverpool's Belgium striker Divock Origi (right) celebrates with Liverpool's Swiss midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri after scoring their fourth goal during their Uefa Champions league semi-final second leg match against Barcelona at Anfield on May 7, 2019. PHOTO | PAUL ELLIS |AFP

"We have to back the captain of the national side, right," he insisted of Wanyama, a role-model who won his first Kenya full international cap at 15.

Wanyama is a solid central midfielder but is also the first Kenyan to score in the European Champions League back when he starred for Celtic, netting in an unforgettable win over Barcelona.

The stocky Wanyama has only started 13 Premier League games this season but has turned out six times so far in the Champions League and is highly thought of by the Spurs faithful.

Origi, for his part, has already made a huge Champions League impact at Anfield, scoring two goals in Liverpool's sensational comeback against Barcelona in this year's semi-final.

And while Origi, who transferred from Lille to Liverpool in 2014, plays for Belgium, he also enjoys huge support in Kenya as the son of a former Kenya football captain Mike Okoth.

His dad is famous for making the unusual transition from 'keeper to striker in a lengthy career for Kenya.

"He was born and bred in Belgium, but he still has a link with Kenya," says Austin Oduor, Origi's uncle and himself a former Kenya international.

"He comes here regularly and he speaks good Swahili," he added of the language that along with English is the nation's official tongue.

The pair also represent different ethnic groups in a highly diverse nation.

Chelsea's Nigerian midfielder Victor Moses (left) vies with Tottenham Hotspur's Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama (centre) and Tottenham Hotspur's Belgian midfielder Mousa Dembele during a past English Premier League match at Wembley Stadium. PHOTO | IAN KINGTON |

Chelsea's Nigerian midfielder Victor Moses (left) vies with Tottenham Hotspur's Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama (centre) and Tottenham Hotspur's Belgian midfielder Mousa Dembele during a past English Premier League match at Wembley Stadium. PHOTO | IAN KINGTON |AFP

"Origi from a Luo family, and Wanyama from a Luhya family," says sports journalist Elias Makori.

These two ethnic groups are historically associated with football in Kenya, with the Luo and Luhya supporting rival clubs, Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards respectively.

The Champions League final has even been renamed the "Mashemeji derby" by Kenyans in reference to the derby between those two clubs.

"Previously people have been saying the Champions League is a tournament for foreign players, but now it is coming closer to home," said Makori.

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