Belgium captain Eden Hazard said his numerous ankle fractures meant it would never be the same as it was 10 years ago but he was determined to prove he could still perform at the highest level at the European Championship.
Hazard will start for the first time in Euro 2020 in his country’s last Group B match against Finland in St Petersburg on Monday, his coach Roberto Martinez confirmed. But the 28-year-old attacker said he might not be ready to compete the full 90 minutes.
“I never doubted my qualities, but whether I would be 100 per cent fit for the European Championship was going to be a question. I broke my ankle three times, it will never be the same as 10 years ago. But I know that when I am in shape, that I can prove myself on the field and that’s what I’m working on now.
“I’m not 100 per cent yet, but I’m ready to start. But that was the plan, to bring me along gradually. It’s especially important to be completely fit in the knockout phase. Then I have to be in top shape.”
Two wins out of two for Belgium mean they are through to the last 16, and Martinez is using the game against the Finns to ensure Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Axel Witsel, also back from injury, get more game time.
“We will see how the match goes, but I may not be ready for 90 minutes. But I will play as many minutes as possible at a high level. If it is 50 minutes, it will be 50. If it is 60, it will be 60. We’ll see,” he told a news conference on Sunday.
Hazard was used a substitute in Belgium’s opening games, a thumping 3-0 win over Russia in St Petersburg and a come-from-behind win over Denmark in Copenhagen. He had been a fitness doubt in Belgium’s pre-tournament preparations after an injury-filled season at Real Madrid.
Top-ranked Belgium, one of the Euro 2020 favourites, are expected to win the group and keep on track for the title, but Hazard said thoughts of a first major title for the country were still some way off.
“We still have to work to get better. We are doing our best to get better, starting with tomorrow. The tournament is still long and we are trying to get as far as possible. There are still areas for improvement, but we are working with them.”