Marc Wilmots hailed captain Eden Hazard’s contribution to Belgium’s 4-0 demolition of Hungary on Sunday, claiming the winger “did his talking with his feet”.
Wilmots handed Hazard the armband when Vincent Kompany was struck down by injury prior to Euro 2016 and must have felt vindicated as the Chelsea man turned in a wonderful display in Toulouse, creating one and scoring another as Belgium set up a quarter-final clash with Wales on Friday.
Toby Alderweireld, Michy Batshuayi and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco were also on target as Bernd Storck’s men were brushed aside.
Wilmots said of Hazard: “There were a lot of people that were amazed that I gave Eden the armband but you need to let this little man grow up. He doesn’t do a lot of talking and I wasn’t surprised by that.
“A captain can’t always do his talking with his mouth but tonight he did his with his feet.”
Asked what he said to Hazard beforehand to inspire such a performance, he added: “I told him that I wanted him to score a goal by cutting inside. He wasn’t getting close enough to the goal and he needs to have fun on the pitch.
“It was almost impossible to take the ball off him tonight. When we are going through tough times, we can give him the ball and have a breather. Likewise Kevin De Bruyne, Yannick Carrasco and Dries Mertens. Also, when they lose the ball, they work hard to win it back.”
The only concern for Wilmots on an otherwise perfect night was their profligacy in front of goal.
“At half-time, we can’t come in at just 1-0, we should have been at least 3-0 up which would have made the game easier,” he said.
“It was 1-0 for too long. We were able to get the second and third goals quickly but we needed too many chances.
“When we can move the ball quickly we can take the opposition out and I think our 4-2-3-1 formation worked. I was playing with four forwards if you will and we have struck the right balance with the two sitting midfielders.
“We might be weaker from a defensive perspective but every time De Bruyne lost the ball he made the effort to come back. And he was very quick going the other way.”
Wilmots will be forced into a defensive change for the Wales game with Thomas Vermaelen suspended after picking up a second booking of the tournament, although Wilmots claimed it could be a blessing for the injury-prone Barcelona man.
“The last three games we have kept clean sheets with a new defensive unit,” he said.
“Thomas Vermaelen won’t be with us in Lille but we’ll find a solution. It was a shame, Hungary had eight players [on a yellow coming in] and we had four but we shouldn’t worry about that.
“You can’t hold back if you’re on a yellow card, we have other good players. Thomas can have a break, he’s been excellent. Whether he could have played again in in five days’ time I’m not sure. I am hoping we can get to the semis so he will be rested up and available.”
Although it is Wales next with either Poland or Portugal awaiting the winner in the semi-final, Wilmots indulged in answering a question about facing Germany in the final.
And it’s a challenge that would not faze the confident Red Devils boss.
“We’re not in the final yet but Germany v Belgium wouldn’t bother me, it would be great,” he said.
“I am going to watch Germany, they play with a formation to us and that would be a good match-up.”