Eden Hazard
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Chelsea’s Eden Hazard is going to have a major say in England’s World Cup hopes.

Thursday’s match between England and Belgium always looked like the big one in Group G, the moment the team names were drawn. This is the game likely to decide who tops the group, unless Belgium slip up against Tunisia and England blow it in the second match, against Panama. The odds are surely on an England win; the South Americans look the weakest team in the group and collapsed against Belgium.

So, if all goes to form, it comes down to England v Belgium, matchday three of Group G, on June 28. By the time the game kicks off of course, both teams could already be through, on six points each.

But there’s still plenty to play for. Winning the group should, in theory, give the leaders an easier draw in the second round. It could be the difference between meeting a confident Senegal in the knockout stages and a stuttering Poland. Although football doesn’t always go to form…

Anyway, whatever’s at stake, it should be a cracking match and the first real test of this England squad. It’s one thing to edge past a decent but unambitious Tunisia team, trying to cling on for a point, and another to defeat one of the tournament favourites – check out betting on the World Cup with williamhill.com and you’ll see Belgium are right up there with France, Spain and Argentina.

Belgium have an embarrassment of riches and there’s a real depth of talent in the squad that most of the other nations in the tournament would love. Heading it all up is Hazard.

The Chelsea playmaker started the World Cup brilliantly against Panama, not only registering an assist but creating a sackful of chances – including, as we’ve seen, four in a minute. He’s clearly in the mood and is fully focused on pushing this Belgian team; the BBC reported that he had a few ‘motivational’ words with Romelu Lukaku at half-time, and it obviously worked.

At Chelsea, we’ve been lucky enough to see Hazard at his very best, week in, week out, and when he’s on form there are very few players in world football better than him. But he also probably belongs in that group of footballers slightly below the elite, looking to push right into that superstar bracket – and this is his best chance to do that.

Eden’s in his prime; 27 years old. He’s got the 2020 European Championships ahead of him and possibly another World Cup, but this is the one. This is his time. Belgium might be going some to actually win it – though there are less talented teams in history who have – but if Hazard can inspire his nation to the last eight at least or even better the semi-finals, he’ll really seize the limelight.

How can England stop Hazard?

Together with former Chelsea man Kevin De Bruyne, Hazard will be Belgium’s main threat against England. Gareth Southgate will certainly have considered how best to stop him, and it won’t be easy.

Hazard’s strengths could exploit the weakness in England’s system. He’ll run with the ball in that slot between wing-back and central defence, and will float across the forward line. England will it difficult to pick him up, because he drifts around so much. Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker are both pretty quick though, and they’ll need to be to keep with Hazard at full pace.

Belgium are probably favourites to win this one, but the key to any England success is surely keeping Hazard quiet. Whenever the Chelsea star has a good game, he usually ends up as the match winner.

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