Thursday 12 December 2019

We are not afraid of Lionel Messi, warns Eden Hazard

Belgian star Eden Hazard reckons Belgium have a better team than Argentina and says that they will not be afraid of going head-to-head with Lionel Messi during Saturday's quarter-final. Photo credit: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Belgian star Eden Hazard reckons Belgium have a better team than Argentina and says that they will not be afraid of going head-to-head with Lionel Messi during Saturday's quarter-final. Photo credit: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Simon Hart

They have been billed as their country's golden generation for some time and now they have the chance to prove it. Belgium's success in overcoming the United States in the most dramatic, compelling match of this World Cup so far has merely opened the door to an even bigger test – a quarter-final against Lionel Messi's Argentina on Saturday afternoon – and Eden Hazard believes they can pass it.

Belgium's 2-1 extra-time success over the US took them into a first World Cup quarter-final since 1986 in Mexico when, ironically, they ended up losing to a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina in the semi-finals.

"It is a big game for this generation," said Hazard. "It is very important. We can make history. I hope we can win. We know the best player in the world is in this team, but we are not afraid."

The Chelsea forward suggested that Belgium have a better team and this was a view echoed by his coach Marc Wilmots. "We are not favourites against Argentina but there is a lack of balance in their team," he said.

"We will make sure we play well against a stronger opponent. I do not worry about what happened in the past and I certainly don't think it will happen again."

Belgium will travel to Brasilia with confidence after they finally took flight as an attacking force against the US. They had 27 shots and would have won comfortably inside 90 minutes but for the brilliance of Tim Howard.

It helped that the US gave them more space to play in than their group stage opponents had allowed them, as Kevin de Bruyne acknowledged: "It was easier to play with the ball, it was not like playing with 10 defenders."

De Bruyne was arguably Belgium's best performer, though he praised the impact of the squad's two strikers, teenager Divock Origi – who led the line impressively on only his second international start – and the man who replaced him for extra-time, Romanu Lukaku.

"It is the same as happened before when Romelu started and Divock make the difference (scoring the winner against Russia). Now it happened the other way. Divock did well but was tired and then Romelu did really well."

A tired American defence could not handle the contributions from Tottenham's swashbuckling left-back Jan Vertonghen and Everton winger Kevin Mirallas, whose impact as a substitute underlined further Belgium's strength in depth. They may well need it against Argentina. (© Independent News Service)

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