Belgium counting on Hazard to dazzle at World Cup

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 12, 2014 at 4:48 pm •  Published: June 12, 2014
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MOGI DAS CRUZES, Brazil (AP) — Jose Mourinho has sung the praises of Eden Hazard. The best club in Paris, the city of lights, has wooed him. And Eden has finally arrived in his garden — the World Cup — wearing the No. 10 jersey, just as the likes of Pele, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane did before him.

Now comes the hard part: Living up to his billing.

"Water off a duck's back," Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said of the pressure being piled on his star player. Hazard certainly has not made it any easier on himself with a lackluster preparation campaign.

Still, his teammates are confident he will perform when needed.

"Whatever happens, he will be there," defender Jan Vertonghen said.

Hazard gets his first shot on Tuesday, when he is called into action against Algeria. Belgium is the heavy favorite to win Group H, which also contains Russia and South Korea.

The 23-year-old Belgian is among a handful of creative players, along with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Mess, considered capable of giving the tournament a memorable World Cup moment.

Hazard is coming off a standout season at Chelsea, where his performances earned him the Premier League's Young Player of the Year award.

He is deceptively fast, has vision and instinct, can deliver a pass with pinpoint precision and produce a booming shot when needed. And he is unpredictable, with the canny ability to provide victory with a solo move when a team is playing badly.

"Eden, on form, can stand the comparison with Messi," Vertonghen said. Mourinho, a coach rarely known for lavish praise, has said that with time Hazard could be among the greatest in the world. PSG, with Qatari backing, has sought to lure him back to the French league, where he learned the trade with Lille. Rumors are it would make him among the best-paid players in the world.

So with such extraordinary skills, such accolades, should a player like that defend as well, expending energy that could be useful for a burst of creative genius?

It has become an issue over the past weeks, as Hazard has sometimes seemed lackluster during games and training sessions.

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