A lot of expectations from Eden Hazard, but the star of the Belgium national football team hasn’t lived up to them so far. However, one moment of breaking free from a match-long of tight marking was enough for him to set up a winning goal for Divock Origi and help his team clinch a spot in the round of 16.
The match that should have been the best of the day turned out to be the worst. If it wasn’t for Fleix Byrch missing out on a foul by Vincent Kompany which allowed Belgium to go out on the counter attack, maybe we would have ended up watching a 0-0 draw that would have really made things complicated in Group H. But Byrch, missed out on an easy call that didn’t actually need a replay to spot, giving Eden Hazard the opportunity to show his stuff.
For a second straight match, Hazard got lost on the wing. With his head pointing to the ground, stuck between the trapping defenders of Russia. Just like he did against Algeria. Sure, the Algerian team, that looked completely different in their match against South Korea, were a bit over aggressive in their loss against Belgium, but there was nothing too dirty about it. The Russians simply did a very good job on him.
And yet one moment of brilliance as he made his way through the exhausted Russian defenders making it back to cover the counter attack, Hazard showed what he can do in space, when given room and time. Belgium waited for almost 90 minutes so that their best player and biggest talent can show what he has. Luckily for them, a series of events led to that freedom he got, setting up Divock Origi for the winning goal.
Belgium are in the next stage, no matter what happens. Things aren’t going to get easier for Hazard and Belgium, who sometimes seem a bit overwhelmed, as one might expect from a team that all but one of their players has never been to a major international tournament. Combine the heat, humidity and exhaustion from travel which has been affecting everyone, and you get two bad performances from a team that seems to wake up a bit late in the match.
So far it’s been enough. And maybe against better teams than what they’ve faced so far – teams that play with less of a defensive approach, we’ll see more than just momentary flashes from one of the most promising players in European football. Romelu Lukaku hasn’t been the only one that’s been disappointing, but at least Hazard has been on the pitch to contribute with the match on the line. Going by Lukaku’s reaction to the substitution, he might not see a whole lot of playing time in what remain of Belgium’s tournament.