Eden Hazard is realistic about the strain an injury-hit two years at Real Madrid has put on his body, as he prepares to start for the first time in Euro 2020.
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has confirmed Hazard, who came on as a substitute in Belgium’s opening Group B games – wins over Russia and Denmark – will feature from the off in Monday’s match against Finland in St Petersburg.
Hazard teed up Kevin De Bruyne’s sweetly struck winner against Denmark last time out, taking his tally of assists to five in seven career appearances for Belgium at the Euros. Since at least 1980, his average of an assist every 98 minutes is the best of any player to have played at least five times in the competition.
The 30-year-old showed flashes of his quality, after what has been another injury-hampered season in the Spanish capital. Across the 2020-21 season, Hazard managed just 896 minutes of game time in all competitions, making 21 appearances in total.
Of those appearances, only 11 were starts, with Hazard scoring four goals and setting up a further two, creating 10 chances in total.
Though the former Chelsea star insists he still has full belief in his abilities, injuries have started to take a toll.
“I never doubted my qualities, but whether I would be 100 per cent fit for the European Championship was going to be a question,” Hazard told a news conference on Sunday.
“I broke my ankle three times, it will never be the same as 10 years ago. But I know that when I am in shape, that I can prove myself on the field and that’s what I’m working on now.
“I’m not 100 per cent yet, but I’m ready to start. But that was the plan, to bring me along gradually. It’s especially important to be completely fit in the knockout phase. Then I have to be in top shape.”
While stating he is ready to play from the off, Hazard also conceded he may not be able to complete the match.
“We will see how the match goes, but I may not be ready for 90 minutes, but I will play as many minutes as possible at a high level,” he said.
“If it is 50 minutes, it will be 50. If it is 60, it will be 60. We’ll see.”
While Hazard will feature against Finland, his younger brother Thorgan – who netted Belgium’s equaliser against Denmark – will not.
The Borussia Dortmund wideman, who has been playing at wing-back in Martinez’s 3-4-3 system, will miss out due to a knee injury.
“He’s just going to miss a game,” Martinez explained.
“He should be back with the squad on Thursday or Friday. He had a knee injury, nothing serious. This game against Finland just comes 24 hours too early.”
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