Eden Hazard started and play the full 90 minutes vs Finland in their final group stage match of Euro 2020. The Belgium captain completed a full game for the first time since November 23rd, 2019 — 19 months later. His Real Madrid teammate and compatriot, Thibaut Courtois, started in net and completed the match, but had relatively little to do all evening.
All eyes were on Hazard to see if he could rekindle any of the form or any level of confidence, the type which made him a 100 million plus transfer. The first half performance left a lot to be desired. Hazard was languid; opting for a lateral or backward pass whenever he received the ball. His skillset can never be questioned, but his explosiveness and speed still seem a long way off. The question for fans of both the Belgium National Team and Real Madrid is, will those two elements of his game ever recover?
The second half was a different story. There was more energy from both teams. Hazard nearly broke the deadlock when he arrived in the box, latching on to a Belgium cross, taking a touch out of the air with one foot and then lashing a volley with his other foot. The problem? The shot was right at Lukas Hradecky, Finland’s goalkeeper, and a good opportunity was saved. The positives to take from Hazard’s near-goal was the movement in the box, the recognition of space, the timing of the run, and the close control to pull off the shot from a difficult pass. Later, Hazard would have another close call — cutting in from the left and pulling a shot off with his right foot that failed to curl in towards the upper 90 of the net.
The #10’s second half performance was much improved vs his first. Hazard is still a long way off his Chelsea form, but completing 90 minutes was the first steps. Hazard ran more than 7.5 kilometers or 4.65 miles and will need several 90 minute matches over the coming months to rediscover his best form. Belgium’s next match will be in the knockout rounds vs Austria. Both Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois will come face to face with their new Real Madrid teammate, David Alaba, in a battle to progress to the quarter-finals.