Belgium captain Eden Hazard is determined to hit top form from the first whistle when his side meet Wales in the last eight at Euro 2016.
The Chelsea forward scored one and set up another in the 4-0 thrashing of Hungary in the last 16 as Marc Wilmots’ side produced their finest display of the tournament so far.
Hazard has been struggling with a thigh injury, but revealed he was able to train on Thursday and “didn’t feel too much pain” just 24 hours before the meeting with Wales.
And the former Lille star, making his return to the city where he enjoyed his professional debut, is eager to hit his stride and put a disappointing club season firmly behind him.
Belgium were held to a draw before being beaten 1-0 away in the most recent meetings between the nations, with Gareth Bale scoring the winner in the match in Cardiff.
“We didn’t create too many chances and struggled to score goals in recent times against Wales,” said Hazard, looking back at their encounters during qualifying. “They have a good defensive block, some good midfielders and a real star up front, but I hope we can create some chances and score some goals this time.
“I put in a great performance last time out, we all want to reproduce the same performance every time. It’s up to me to be ready and come out firing. I’ve played top fixtures one after another in recent years. I didn’t have my best season but I’ve had four good games here.
“It’s always nice to come back to Lille, I experienced my first emotions as a footballer here and it’s my first time in this stadium. We had seven great seasons and won trophies, and I can became consistent playing at the top level.”
Wilmots expects a difficult test once again, but has urged his side to stick to their passing approach in order to counter Wales’ aerial strength – particularly that of James Collins, a player the coach described as a modern-day sweeper.
“They’re like any side that defends well,” he said. “We had a win each and two draws over our last four matches, so it’s completely even.
“They’re a tricky side, they really scrap and have two or three players on a free role who can make the difference. That makes them dangerous.
“They have James Collins who plays almost like a libero. You need to keep the ball on the deck and not play it in the air. We’ve had some tough blows to face, but we’ll try to win with the weapons at our disposal.”