Sunday, July 1, 2018

Eden Hazard insists it's 'time to shine' after Messi and Ronaldo World Cup exit

Eden Hazard believes he is ready to take advantage of the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to press his own claims for football superstardom in Russia.

The Belgium and Chelsea player will captain his side against Japan in the last-16 in Rostov on Monday with a mission not only to make the quarter-finals but also to advance his own reputation as leader of his country's golden generation.

So when the winger was asked if he could step up to the plate with Messi and Ronaldo absent, he answered without hesitation.

He said: 'They are not in the World Cup so now it is time to shine. I want to go through the quarter-final, semi-final and maybe the final.

'I am not the only one of course. Messi and Ronaldo, they are out, but there are still a lot of good players at the World Cup. We will see at the end what happens.'

Hazard is clear, however, that he feels in a good place in terms of his own development despite what appeared to be a difficult season at club level.

'I am a lot stronger than two years ago - or four years ago in Brazil, definitely,' he said. 'I have a lot more experience. Four years ago it was our first major competition, all of us together. France was our second one - and knockout matches have a lot to do with experience.

'When you have a younger team, it is more complicated even if you have good players. Now I think most of us are between 25 and 30, so we have the same level of maturity and I think this will make the difference.'

Hazard has scored two goals so far in Russia but his partnership with Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku, who has four, has been pivotal and he heaped praise on his team-mate.

'We are very lucky to have Lukaku with us because he doesn't need much to score,' he said.

'Maybe a few years ago he needed more but not now. This is why he is one of the top, top players. If he has three scoring opportunities, he scores two goals most of the time. His defensive work is very good as well now.'

Hazard is determined to avoid the experience of Euro 2016 when Belgium lost to Wales after failing to perform when it mattered and perhaps under-estimating their opponents.

He said: 'We are much better off than two years ago because then we had injuries just before the match as well.

'Now is another tournament against another team. Japan is totally different from Wales. We will take this match as seriously as possible.'

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