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If Belgium were sluggish out of the traps against Panama, they went thundering into Tunisia on Saturday – and much of that was down to a special performance from Eden Hazard.
The Chelsea forward won and converted a penalty before latching on to Toby Alderweireld’s through ball and expertly rounding keeper Farouk Ben Mustapha for his second after the break.
Here’s a closer look at Hazard’s performance, as his goals in the 5-2 thrashing only tell half the story.
Hazard wasn’t given a sliver of space in which to operate against Panama but with Tunisia needing a result having been denied a draw at the death against England, pockets naturally opened up for the 27-year-old.
It only took four minutes for his first significant contribution as he was felled by Syam Ben Youssef just inside the box, before nonchalantly dispatching his penalty.
He doubled up after the break and while his run and finish was a thing of beauty, he also had Tottenham defender Alderweireld to thank with his laser-precision pass from deep in Belgium territory. Hazard was then taken off after 68 minutes to save his legs for later in the tournament.
Quick release – Unlike at Chelsea, where Alvaro Morata has failed to stamp his authority on Premier League defences, Hazard has a battering ram – who is also capable of silkiness – in Romelu Lukaku up front. That’s helpful for the Man United star too as soon as Hazard gets the ball his head is up assessing the situation, and he either goes on a mazy dribble or feeds his fellow forwards. Hazard didn’t directly assist Lukaku – his speed of thought was essential to virtually every Belgium attack, however.
Finishing – Hazard had only scored one goal at a major tournament before Saturday’s effort, against Hungary at Euro 2016. He has always been extremely good at penalties but it is encouraging that in open play, the former Lille star looked composed to complete his brace and also got three of his four shots on target.
Pressure from on high – This is a real nit-pick but Hazard didn’t make a single telling contribution defensively. Though this is by no means a key part of his job, in an era where defence starts from attack and more often than not pressing in the opponents’ half, it’s fairly easy for teams to bypass the likes of Hazard and Dries Mertens and put pressure on their admittedly sublime midfield. It is a real weakness for Roberto Martinez’s side.
Belgium will never be guaranteed a clean sheet with such an attacking line-up, which is why it is imperative that all their attackers operate on the same wavelength and outscore the opposition.
Though Tunisia are hardly the most dangerous team he’ll face, that Hazard was so deadly against a side who needed a result was encouraging. The question is: Will he prove effective against a better unit that will close their ranks in the knockout rounds?
RATING – 9/10
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