The World Cup is fast approaching and the excitement is beginning to build as the club season draws to an end.
Belgium are going to be England’s biggest challenge in Group G, with the other two teams being Tunisia and Panama.
The two European nations are set to face each other on the 28th June in the final group match and it is likely that the fixture will decide who goes through in first place.
England will know the Belgium squad well, as a lot of their players ply their trade in England.
However, Thorgan Hazard is less known to English defenders and the Borussia Monchengladbach attacker could have a role to play this summer.
Roberto Martinez is a big fan of the 25-year-old and has included him in the majority of squads since becoming manager of the Red Devils.
He may not have had the success of his older brother, Eden, at international level but he has collected seven caps and one goal for his country.
At the age of 25, he is approaching the peak years of his career and it would be great for his development if he could announce himself on the global stage.
In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, Hazard spoke about his hopes for both Belgium and himself this summer.
“I hope to be part of the Belgian team travelling to Russia. Since our current coach Roberto Martinez took over, I was invited to all matches and could also make a few matches.
“The decision is of course with the coach. I have to show good performances in the club, then we will see. Of course, it would be very special for me if I could be there.”
It won’t be easy for Hazard to get into the team this summer, as Belgium have their own Golden Generation at the moment and Martinez has a number of talented attackers available to him.
Eden Hazard is likely to be the key man, but Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens and Michy Batshuayi have all had good campaigns for top European clubs. Meanwhile, Divock Origi, Kevin Mirallas and Yannick Carrasco all provide solid options for Martinez.
Although the younger Hazard brother won’t be one of the first names on the team-sheet, he has had his best season in professional football and stood out as the best player at Monchengladbach this season.
It has been a year of progression from the 25-year-old and his regular involvement with the national side shows that his manager has taken notice.
Hazard is currently the leading scorer for Monchengladbach with nine goals in the Bundesliga, which is his best return for a single league season. His consistency has been impressive, as he has averaged 2.01 chances created and 2.59 shots per ninety minutes. The attacker has been a regular threat to defences.
To put his performances into context, his older brother has averaged 3.13 chances created and 2.67 shots per ninety minutes for Chelsea. Considering Eden is playing in a superior team and has more opportunity to express himself, these stats show the quality of Thorgan.
“I think it’s the best generation of footballers Belgium has ever had. Of course, we want to go far at this World Cup, beyond as in 2014. But winning this title is very difficult. Everything has to fit, including health and luck in the matches.”
It is the pinnacle of the sport to lift the World Cup and Belgium have never managed to do it in their history. That isn’t surprising due to their size, but the names listed earlier show the quality that they currently possess. There is a belief that this is their best chance and Hazard clearly agrees with that. In 2014, they got experience in the tournament and reached the quarter-final stage, but they will be looking to improve of that this summer.
They will go into this summer with confidence after easing through their qualification group. Although they didn’t have the most difficult opposition, they managed to win nine of their ten matches and scored an incredible 43 goals, which averaged out at over four per game. Martinez has given the squad license to play attacking football and that certainly plays to their strengths.
However, Hazard is right to allude to the difficulty of winning the World Cup. Only one nation can do it every four years and Belgium won’t be one of the favourites. They will need everything to click and get the bit of luck required to go deep into a tournament. The first challenge will be England and the Monchengladbach winger spoke of the benefits his country will gain from having a number of Premier League players in the squad.
“Many of the best Belgian footballers play in the Premier League. So, we know many English players well. But it makes a difference whether you play against them with the club team or meet each other with the national teams. We will definitely do everything we can to win this difficult and important group game.”
They do have an advantage through knowing the English players well, but England have the same knowledge that could prove an important factor. This is why those that play in other top European leagues could be crucial in the final group game. Mertens, Radja Nainggolan and the younger Hazard could all be key figures for the Red Devils.
This summer will be special for the Hazard family. It is rare for two siblings to play to a high level in professional football and even rarer for them to feature alongside each other at a World Cup. It could be a tournament that takes both players to a new level.