Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hazard spells World Cup danger for France

Hazard spells World Cup danger for France

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Belgium forward Eden Hazard adjusts his captain’s armband in their World Cup quarterfinal with Brazil on Friday. AFP

Hazard spells World Cup danger for France

Eden Hazard is one of the French academy system’s finest exports in the past decade but he could be the man to end Didier Deschamps’s bid for World Cup glory.

Born to two footballing parents in the Belgian municipality of Braine-le-Comte, Hazard’s reputation spread across the border and saw him snapped up by Lille at the age of just 14.

Two years later Hazard made his professional debut in Ligue 1 and went on to become French football’s brightest talent, twice winning the league’s player of the year prize and leading Lille to a Ligue 1 and Cup double in 2010-11.

When a big-money move inevitably came, it was Chelsea who won the race in 2012 with a £32 million ($43 million) capture, one that now seems like a bargain.

In six seasons in England, Hazard has won two more league titles and won plenty of admirers. But some doubt whether he has the desire to back up his immense talent and challenge Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as the world’s best player.

So far in Russia, Hazard looks like a man on a mission to ensure Belgium’s so-called golden generation live up to their billing by bringing home the World Cup for the first time in the country’s history.

Handed the armband by Roberto Martinez despite Vincent Kompany’s return from injury, the Spaniard has drawn out Hazard’s leadership qualities.

“I think Eden is in a great moment of his career,” Martinez said before the tournament. “Look at his age, he is the captain, in terms of leadership – he never finds it difficult to show for the ball.”

Hazard’s willingness and ability to carry the ball under pressure, jinking past helpless defenders, was in evidence as Belgium claimed their greatest-ever World Cup scalp by beating Brazil in the quarterfinals.

Leading by example

With his side clinging onto a 2-1 lead, Hazard repeatedly carried the ball forward in the dying minutes, drawing fouls to offer the Belgian backline some respite.

His leadership was also in evidence with a man-of-the-match performance, including a wonderful assist for Marouane Fellaini’s equaliser, as the Red Devils came from 2-0 down to beat Japan 3-2 in the last 16.

In outshining Brazil’s Neymar in the last eight, Hazard may have put himself in the shop window.

At 27, he has not hidden his ambition to finally make an impact on the Champions League, which Chelsea missed out on after a disappointing fifth-placed finish in the Premier League last season.

Long linked with a transfer to Real Madrid, a move to Spain looks more realistic this summer than at any time of his Chelsea career, with Madrid president Florentino Perez often influenced by outstanding World Cup performances and Ronaldo looking set to exit the Santiago Bernabeu.

As a child, Hazard used to study videos of Zinedine Zidane, the man who led France to the World Cup in 1998 – and stepped down as Real boss in May – to hone and copy his skills.

Twenty years on, he’s just two games away from matching Zidane’s feat.

To do so, though, he must prevent France’s own talented crop of Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann from following in Zidane’s footsteps in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday night (at 1am Cambodian time).

MOST VIEWED

  • Chinese influx pushing locals, Westerners out of Preah Sihanouk

    Some within the Kingdom’s tourism industry have speculated that the recent influx of Chinese visitors may hinder domestic tourism as the price of accommodations in the coastal city of Sihanoukville continues to rise. Preah Sihanouk province, which has become a hotbed for Chinese investment

  • ‘Dire consequences’ from sanctions, warns AmCham

    American businesspeople in Cambodia have warned that any sanction against the Kingdom would have “dire consequences” that could push Cambodia even further into the arms of China. In a letter to US senators and representatives dated Monday, the American Chamber of Commerce Cambodia (AmCham) said

  • CPP: ‘Behave or Sokha suffers’

    The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman warned Kem Monovithya on Thursday that her attempt to damage “national reputation and prestige” would lead to her father, Kem Sokha, receiving even harsher punishment. Sok Eysan issued the warning as Monovithya, who is the court dissolved

  • Preah Sihanouk beach developments halted

    After receiving an order from Hun Sen, Minister of Land Management Chea Sophara led a team of experts and relevant officials to Sihanoukville to call a halt to the illegal development of a beach. The prime minister ordered the Prek Treng beach in Otres commune