Belgium vs United States match preview World Cup 2014: Eden Hazard and the Red Devils must add flair to their efficiency
They have three wins out of three but have had unconvincing performances
Tuesday 01 July 2014
They arrived at this World Cup as fancied outsiders and have put together three straight wins but when Belgium face the United States in the last 16 in Salvador today, the pressure is on to add some flair to their efficient displays so far.
Marc Wilmots’ Belgium may have topped Group H but the failure of their highly regarded attacking players to light up the tournament has raised questions, and the spotlight is burning particularly intensely on their star playmaker, Eden Hazard.
Hazard struck 17 goals for Chelsea and earned the PFA Player of the Year award in 2013/14 in a campaign where the only doubts – raised by his manager, Jose Mourinho – were about his defensive application. Here in Brazil the questions concern his overall impact. He failed to impose himself as hoped for in the early stages of Belgium’s first two games against Algeria and Russia, even if he came to life in the closing stages to set up the winning goal each time.
Wilmots laughed in his press conference at the Arena Fonte Nova yesterday when yet another question about the Chelsea man came up, saying: “You ask a lot about a player who has already given a lot.”
However, his suggestion that Hazard was a danger when the opposition gave him space to play in was instructive as there is a feeling that Belgium have struggled when denied that space; only when Algeria, Russia and South Korea tired and space opened up, did they finally break through.
Hazard acknowledged that the time has come to step up a level. “Until now I’ve been involved in some nice moves but I’ve not yet produced a great match at this World Cup,” he said yesterday. “I hope I can combine these two aspects against the US. I’d like to play a decisive role and be more consistent during the whole game.”
These words were echoed by Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel, who said: “We have trust in Eden, we all know his quality, he makes a difference at any time. I am sure we will see a big performance from him tomorrow.” If so, a first World Cup quarter-final since 1986 may well beckon for the Red Devils.
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