Thursday, 2 February, 2023

Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ past best, admits Hazard

Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ past best, admits Hazard
(From left) Belgium’s forward Eden Hazard, midfielder Axel Witsel and midfielder Amadou Onana take part in a training session at Salwa Training Site in Salwa Beach on Saturday. –AFP PHOTO

Eden Hazard admitted Saturday that Belgium's best chance to win the World Cup had come and gone but said they still have the quality and experience to lift the trophy in Qatar.

Belgium, who finished third at the tournament in Russia in 2018, are still ranked second in the world but many of the much-vaunted "Golden Generation" are now in their 30s.

"To be fair I think we had a better chance to win four years go," admitted 31-year-old Hazard, speaking on the eve of Sunday's match against Morocco.

"The team was better four years ago but still we have the quality to win games and to win the competition. We have a few guys, they are a bit older now but we have experience and the best goalkeeper in the world (Thibaut Courtois)."

He added: "Belgium can win the World Cup if we are in form. If we are not it will be tough." The Real Madrid forward said he was not over-worried by Belgium's struggles in their opening Group F match against Canada, which they won 1-0, but he urged the team to play without fear.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez gave an update on the fitness of leading striker Romelu Lukaku, who is recovering from a thigh injury.

The Spaniard said the forward was not expected to be available until the third group game against Croatia, in line with previous expectations.

"He's ahead of what he should be," said Martinez. "I don't expect him to be involved tomorrow unless something goes extremely well today."

Meanwhile, Morocco coach Walid Regragui said his team would try and draw on the "special emotions" of their Belgian-born players when they take on Martinez's side at the World Cup on Sunday.

The north Africans drew their opening game with Croatia 0-0 and victory over Belgium would put them on the brink of reaching the knockout stage for the first time since 1986.

Morocco have four players in their squad who were born in Belgium including Selim Amallah, who started against Croatia and plays his club football for Standard Liege.

Fourteen of Morocco's 26-man squad were born outside the country, including star players Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi, who were born in the Netherlands and Spain.

"They have a special emotion and a positive energy and you have to try and draw from that," Regragui said at his pre-match press conference on Saturday.

"It's a special match for them and we all know that.

"But what we have to do is try and put that into context.... I almost brought one of those players into the press conference and then I realised I shouldn't do that as it would put pressure on them."

Meanwhile, Croatia will take on Canada in the day’s other Group F match.