2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™

2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™

12 June - 13 July

2014 FIFA World Cup™

Hazard: I don't deserve coach's praise

Eden Hazard of Belgium controls the ball.
© Getty Images

*"Eden can be one of the five best players in the world. He has everything he needs." *

Marc Wilmots' words were hardly the kind of guarded, moderate comments one associates with pre-match press conferences. They also jarred with the overall tone of a coach anxious to play down talk of a 'golden generation' and predictions that his team could challenge for the Trophy.

Wilmots would doubtless insist that an extraordinary player deserves extraordinary praise, and he is not the first to describe Hazard in such terms. Jose Mourinho might have mixed compliments with criticism last season, but it should not be forgotten that he described Chelsea's player of the year as "probably the best young footballer in the world".

Yet while some of the game's other rising stars would glow with satisfaction at hearing such remarks, Hazard comes close to grimacing. Indeed, having been informed by FIFA.com of Wilmots' latest eulogy, the Belgium star's immediate reaction was to declare himself unworthy.

"Seriously? He said that?" said Hazard. "Well, I never like to talk about myself in that way because, to be honest, I don't think I deserve it at the moment. 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 that is what the best players in the world - like Messi and Ronaldo - do every season. These are the guys everyone else has to aim for. It's nice of the coach to say such things, but I wouldn't say the same."

Wilmots' praise might have been most memorable, but he also provided advice. Hazard, he said, had a responsibility to "release the handbrake and go".

By the player's own admission, that was a challenge he failed to grasp in the match against Algeria, falling short of unleashing his full, awesome potential. Though an unselfish assist for the winning goal was both important and impressive, it proved the unrivalled highlight of a largely subdued performance. Hazard knows that better will be required.

"I didn't find it easy," he admitted. "It was difficult for all the midfielders and forwards, especially in the first half, to find the space to show what we can do. But when Marouane [Fellaini] scored the equaliser, the game opened up more and we were able to show a little more of what we can bring as individuals and as a team. Hopefully you will see more of that kind of football from us in the games ahead.

"I can definitely play better and we can also play better as a group. But this was just a start for us, and we have won our first game, which we always felt would be the most important one. There's not much more we could ask. You know at a tournament like this that if you win the first game, you have a great chance of going through. Now we are in a good position at the top of the group and we want to do everything we can to stay there."

*Blending steel with style *Although the victory over Algeria rarely saw Belgium at their scintillating best, it could be argued that the manner in which it was achieved strengthened the case for them being considered dark horses. After all, with the star-studded squad Wilmots has taken to Brazil, their talent has never been in question. What the comeback in Belo Horizonte proved is that this *Diables Rouges *team have character to match their undoubted class.

"I think we showed a good side of our mentality," said Hazard. "I think you have to applaud the Algerian team because they made it really, really uncomfortable for us. But it's important to adapt in these situations and stay calm, not panic. That was the most important thing for us and I think did that well.

"Plus, the players who came on [as substitutes] gave us something extra, which is always what you hope for. We know that we have great quality right through this squad and it gives you confidence to see the kind of players we have on the bench. We'll need everyone in the squad to help if we're going to achieve what we want to at this tournament and make a real impact."

Just what that impact will constitute remains a matter for conjecture. Certainly, no-one in the Belgium squad is to be found making rash predictions. Their dreams of the Maracana will focus not on the Final, but the more immediate visit to Rio's temple of football for their next Group H match against Russia. It is a fixture that brings with it a chance to qualify for the Round of 16 with a game to spare, and to take another exhilarating stride into the unknown.

As Hazard said: "This is all new for us, so taking one game at a time is all we can do. With Belgium, I think it's tough for anyone to make predictions. We have a good team, that's clear. We are talented and we are young. But this is our first experience of the World Cup and who knows how far we can go? We don't know and neither does anyone else.

"All I can say is that 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."

They might even see a player who, on top form, could yet justify his coach's acclaim.

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