Eden Hazard has impressed at the World Cup so far and his coach Roberto Martinez has taken note, saluting his impact and influence.
Roberto Martinez lauded Belgium star Eden Hazard as a player who makes football “a beautiful sport” and applauded his influence as captain.
Hazard has enjoyed a strong World Cup for Belgium so far, scoring two and assisting as many from just three matches.
His form has helped Belgium reach the last eight where they meet tournament favourites Brazil in Kazan on Friday.
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But one element of his performances that many may not necessarily notice is his influence as a leader, and that is the side of his game that Martinez is particularly impressed with since getting to Russia.
The pair have started in all four games but may face their biggest test against a Belgian front line boasting the firepower of Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard.
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“Hes been a real captain, a real leader and someone whos always been himself,” Martinez told reporters at the Kazan Arena on Thursday.
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Marcelo was forced off early on in Brazils final group game as they beat Serbia to assure themselves of top spot in Group E, before the same back problem cost him a place in the team that beat Mexico 2-0.
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“What you love about his temperament is that whatever the score, opponent, moment, hes always available to get the ball and be decisive.
“His level of the play has been the highest, hes been decisive in attack, a leader in what the group needs to achieve.
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“We are a team and in international football that [being a team] is difficult. Hes played a massive part as captain of this group.
“You see a lot of the captain through the team. When you see Hazard enjoying his football, he makes it a beautiful sport, he puts a smile on the face.”
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“If defenders manage to stop Neymar without fouling him then he cannot stay on the floor for too long, but when other players start provoking him he must do his part, which is normal.”
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Brazil beat Mexico 2-0 in the last 16 of the World Cup and put on their best performance at the tournament so far.
The Brazil star has attracted criticism for going to ground too easily during the World Cup, most notably in the last-16 tie against Mexico
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There has been so much debate about Neymar simulating fouls or wasting time on the floor, but I think that in a competition like this – with VAR – we shouldnt be paying too much attention to this.
Perhaps we should be talking about the officials? Ive seen many referee mistakes during the World Cup, lots of stuff happening that is not being commented on, but still all the focus is on Neymar.
If defenders manage to stop Neymar without fouling him then he cannot stay on the floor for too long, but when other players start provoking him he must do his part, which is normal.
I have no complaints about it – he is playing well, Brazil are winning while other traditionally strong teams have gone home, and the team is scoring at the right time and playing good football – but people insist on focusing on a minor thing that really isnt so important.
All this nonsense means other players attempt to provoke him even more, and he must be intelligent in these moments. Even referees could be influenced by this controversy and punish Neymar unfairly, but he must try to relax and I believe manager Tite would try to calm him down, telling him to just play his game as he always does.
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He is already 26-years old, has lots of big game experience, and I believe he will raise to the occasion and deal with this tricky situation.
The Belgians come into the game after a dramatic last-minute victory over Japan, but they had a huge scare in that match.
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Roberto Martinezs side made plenty of mistakes to give Japan a 2-0 lead, but they still had time to recover and win 3-2. Idont think they will make the same errors and I expect a more cautious approach with the underdogs playing on the counter attack.
Belgium have many talented players and they wont make things easy for Brazil, but I still think la Selecao will manage to win the game. It will probably be similar to the two teams meeting at the 2002 World Cup which ended in a 2-0 win for Brazil after a goalless first-half. I played and scored in that match and Belgium were a tricky opponent.
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Brazil must pay close attention to Belgiums attackers. They will wait for Brazil to take control of the match but will also have their moments of offensive power. Belgium were fancied before the tournament and they are performing like genuine contenders.
And now they have a great opportunity to make history by beating Brazil. If they lose it would be considered normal as they are facing the five-time winners and current favourites, so this is a great chance for the Belgian players to achieve a memorable win.
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For that reason, I dont think this will be easy for Brazil, but I believe they have conditions to progress and predict a 2-1 victory.
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