Hazard at World Cup: 2 decisive assists in 2 games
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — It has been tough at times to spot Eden Hazard at the World Cup so far. When he has been highly visible, it has led to goals that have moved Belgium into the second round.
Often he trawls seemingly sullen and slow along the left flank, moving on a whim to the right, and then moving back in a way that could expose him to criticism. Then, suddenly, he can make something happen in seconds.
With a burst of brilliance, he broke through into the penalty box of Russia, spotted striker Divock Origi moving in and with a pinpoint pass set the teenager up for the 1-0 winner with just two minutes to go on Sunday.
Hazard says “it was a complicated match.” And, obviously, he is a complicated player — one of those love-him-or-hate-him stars that make him great to watch even when he is underperforming.
Hazard had some mediocre performances in the run-up to Brazil, but Belgium coach Marc Wilmots has never wavered in his confidence in his playmaker.
“He doesn’t really worry me,” Wilmots said when the criticism of Hazard mounted leading into the opening game against Algeria.
Belgium long had trouble breaking down the Algerian defense, and after they finally equalized, it was up to Hazard to make the difference a first time.
In the 80th minute, Hazard saw substitute Dries Mertens running free on the right and set him up for the decider with a sweet pass.
On Sunday, he even left it even later. The playmaker moved into the penalty box on the left and spotted Origi free in the center. All it took was a pinpoint pass and Origi fired Belgium into the second round.
Apart from the lateness in the game, there was another similarity between the two assists.
Both times, the opposition had been worn down gradually, and they simply couldn’t cope with Hazard sudden bursts of speed.
Within little more than five minutes, he produced four opportunities and the decisive assist.
“We didn’t play a good game. We just played 10 good minutes at the end,” Hazard said. “For sure, their defense was tired. And it allowed us to have more space at the end of the match.”
Hazard, like his teammates, can already look forward to the second round, where they could face Germany, Portugal, Ghana or the United States.
That it still more than a week away, and there are other priorities.
“Now we will rest,” he said.
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