World Cup 2014: Eden Hazard plays down accolades ahead of Belgium vs Russia

Chelsea forward wants to improve his game

Eden Hazard set something of a tone for Sunday, by specifically saying he didn’t deserve a certain status.

Belgian manager Marc Wilmots had praised the Chelsea forward as potentially being “one of the best five players in the world”, in a clear departure from his measured attempts to downplay so much of the hype around his squad. It was also in defiance of some of the debate around Hazard, given that he is still seen as someone who doesn’t fully replicate his club form for his country.

“To be honest, I don’t think I deserve it at the moment,” Hazard said. “To be thought of as one of the best five in the world, I would need to score more goals for a start. I would really need to score almost every game because that is what the best players in the world - like [Leo] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo - do every season.

“I can definitely play better and we can also play better as a group.”

 

Meeting expectation and rectifying reputations are really what this fixture is all about. On the one side are a Russian team who remain among the game's great underachievers, and a manager in Fabio Capello who still has international football as the single minimal entry on a magnificent CV. Both are seeking to make amends.

Of all the European countries to have won a trophy, Russia have gone on the longest drought, one even worse than England’s. It is 54 years since the old Soviet Union won the European Championships, and the modern Russia have never got out of a group stage of the World Cup.

Capello has meanwhile won every club trophy that matters, but managed virtually nothing in the international game. A first-round exit in Brazil would make his last-16 elimination with England in 2010 look even worse. Russia’s opening 1-1 draw against Korea was hardly reassuring, and leaves them needing a result in Belo Horizonte.

Belgium’s requirements are not so great after the 2-1 victory over Algeria but that very match almost deepened the debate about their exact ability. On the one hand, they looked so flat against a notionally poor side, as all the expectation seemed to get to them. On the other, they then rallied superbly when the pressure was at its greatest to produce a win of character. Either way, it was still difficult to escape the feeling that they remain a collection of individuals.

This fixture will tell a lot, but Hazard believes the Algeria win will release them.

“We try every day to improve and to make our country proud, and that’s what we will do again against Russia. They are a strong team and it will be another really big test for us. But winning our first match has given us confidence. I think we will go out there feeling good and relaxed. And if we play to our best, I think the fans here will enjoy watching us."

His mood could be key, not least against a defence as durable as one fashioned by Capello. In the first game, it was as if Hazard was too isolated. He needs to take centre stage. Everyone involved in this game needs to make a significant statement.

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