Eden Hazard: Belgium taking calculated risk that playmaker can recapture old glories

Eden Hazard is still the leader of Belgium’s golden generation

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Kevin De Bruyne’s mercurial talent is indisputable and Romelu Lukaku will be a powerful force up front, so the big question for Belgium heading to the World Cup 2022 in Qatar is whether they can get the best out of playmaker Eden Hazard.

The Real Madrid midfielder has barely played in the Spanish capital this season but Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has kept faith and started him in both Nations League games in September.

Injuries and a loss of form have pushed Hazard down the pecking order at his club, and that in turn has raised questions about the 31-year-old’s place in the national side and whether he will be in peak condition in Qatar.

“The lack of minutes and game time is there but he is in a good mindset and is looking forward to being on the pitch,” Martinez told reporters. “I see an energy and a happiness around Eden, which I did not see six months ago.”

Hazard played for more than an hour against Wales and Netherlands in September and, while there was some rustiness, there were also flashes of the player who was such a key man for Chelsea in the Premier League before his 2019 switch to Madrid.

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He remains an important figure in the Belgium dressing room, having featured in all but one of their 12 games at the 2014 and 2018 World Cups.

He captained the side to their best-ever finish four years ago, their third place helping him to win the Silver Ball as the second-best player at the tournament. That is the footballer Martinez is desperate to resurrect.

Experience and guile are perhaps now his biggest attributes and his coach will know that when it gets to the latter rounds in Qatar, he needs players with cool heads and leadership on the pitch.

Despite the emergence of De Bruyne as potentially the best midfielder in the world, Hazard is still viewed as the leader of the country’s golden generation under Martinez, having made his international debut aged 17 in 2008.

“I know what I can do. Now I want to get in shape for the World Cup. I’m happiest when I play,” Hazard told RTL. “When I play, I give it my all. I’ve always said the old Eden Hazard will come back when he plays. I just need to get back into the rhythm.”

Hazard may be a risk given his situation in Madrid but, with Martinez able to select 26 players in his squad for Qatar, it is surely one worth taking.

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