Football: Soccer-Hazard returns to its best level, says Belgian manager Martinez
KAZAN, Russia (Reuters) – Belgium captain Eden Hazard is approaching his best and could be a key player next month in the Nations League finals, coach Roberto Martinez has said.
The attacking midfielder has been plagued by injuries, including ankle problems, since leaving Chelsea for Real Madrid and spent around 18 months without international football, before entering the European Championship in June without form or physical form.
But after appearing on Wednesday as a Belgium second-half substitute, as they worked towards a 1-0 win over Belarus in Kazan and neared World Cup qualification, Martinez said his skipper looked “happy and painless” and “enjoying being in the field again”.
“Eden is set to make a real impact in the weeks and months to come,” Martinez told reporters. “Against the Czech Republic he beat all the statistics of the past – it was the best Eden I have seen since November 2019.”
FIFA top Belgium beat Estonia 5-2 last week and the Czech Republic 3-0 on Sunday in their previous two qualifiers.
On Wednesday they were without Romelu Lukaku and Jan Vertonghen suspended and chose to spare Thibaut Courtois, Yannick Carrasco and Axel Witsel the long trip to Russia, where Belarus was forced to host the match due to sanctions.
“The fact that Eden wants to come here, that he wants to travel this far, knowing he couldn’t play 90 minutes, shows that Eden is back on every level,” Martinez added.
“He also wanted to be our captain and leader against Belarus. Well, that proves Eden is mentally ready.”
Belgium will then play in the finals of the Nations League in Italy, where they will face world champions France in the semi-finals in Turin on October 7. She will then face Italy or Spain in the final or playoffs for third place on October 10.
Their next World Cup qualifier will be against Estonia on November 13.
(Written by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; edited by Peter Rutherford)