Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has insisted that qualifying for the World Cup remains his priority, explaining he will take it slow with Eden Hazard as the Real Madrid forward makes his way back to full fitness.
The Red Devils are five points clear at the top of Group E with two games left to play and can seal their spot at the World Cup with a win over Estonia on Saturday.
Hazard has not started a game at club or international level since the 3-2 defeat against France in the semi-finals of the Nations League last month, however, with his last start for Madrid coming in a 2-1 loss to Sheriff on September 28.
The 30-year-old is set to feature in some way over Belgium’s next two games, but Martinez is more concerned with his side confirming their place at the World Cup.
“At the moment all our work is based on trying to qualify,” Martinez said ahead of the game against Estonia. “If we need two games to qualify, so be it, and that’s our approach.
“If we can qualify with our home game in front of our fans then it’s going to be another reset on how we approach the last game [against Wales], but it’s important for us that we compete to qualify for the World Cup and try to preserve our position in the world rankings.
“Then it comes to bearing in mind all the [players’] physical states. In the case of Eden he hasn’t played a lot of football so every day that we assess here we take a lot into consideration, the same way that we do with every single player that we have.
“The first goal is to qualify for the World Cup and see when we can do that.”
— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) November 12, 2021
Martinez explained that he was pleased with the former Chelsea winger’s work in training since arriving for national team duty, but warned that Hazard is unlikely to be fit enough to play for a full match.
“Obviously, when you welcome Eden Hazard into the camp it’s just to assess the work that he can do here and I’ve been very pleased in that respect,” Martinez continued.
“He looks happy, he looks forward to the game and then I just feel that we’re going to use how he feels during the game to see if he can play 90 [minutes] or not.
“I would be surprised if he can play 90 at this stage [although] it depends a lot on what type of game we get. With Eden, we’re going to go slowly and make sure we make good forward steps.
“I see him in a very, very good mental state, he looks really sharp, so for me, it’s a question of seeing how long he can play rather than anything else.”
After facing Estonia, Belgium’s final Group E game is on Tuesday against Wales, who are five points behind them in the standings.
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