Belgium pitch perfect despite off-field woes

Eden Hazard (front) vying for the ball with Egypt midfielder Tarek Hamed during Belgium's 3-0 friendly win on Wednesday. Hazard said he will support Egypt at the World Cup because of his former Chelsea team-mate and friend Mohamed Salah, the African
Eden Hazard (front) vying for the ball with Egypt midfielder Tarek Hamed during Belgium's 3-0 friendly win on Wednesday. Hazard said he will support Egypt at the World Cup because of his former Chelsea team-mate and friend Mohamed Salah, the African nation's talisman who did not play owing to a shoulder injury.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BRUSSELS • Embattled Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has yet to win over the home faithful, who are still up in arms over his decision to axe fan favourite Radja Nainggolan from the World Cup squad.

And Belgium have also had to contend with injuries to defender Thomas Vermaelen and captain Vincent Kompany that have disrupted the lead-up to the tournament in Russia next week.

But if Eden Hazard remains in the mood, supporters know that he will make their passage into the second round of the June 14-July 15 global showpiece event that much smoother, regardless of off-field issues.

The Chelsea forward scored once and made another goal in Wednesday's 3-0 friendly win over Egypt that gave worried Belgium fans hope of a promising Group G campaign. England, Tunisia and tournament debutants Panama are their opponents in the group.

Hazard called on his team-mates to replicate their dominant performance against the Pharaohs in Russia if Belgium's golden generation are to fulfil their promise and lift the trophy for the first time.

"It was nice to add some rhythm to the match, to create some movement and score as well. If we want to go far in the World Cup, we'll have to be as solid as we were tonight and keep our energy," the 27-year-old said.

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    Goals Eden Hazard got involved in, making the first and scoring the second.

Facing an Egypt side missing Liverpool star Mohamed Salah, who is recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in the 3-1 Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid, Belgium were given a chance to tide over their recent difficulties during their preparation period.

Martinez had been under fire from the Belgian media over the omission of Nainggolan. And his side's struggles during a 0-0 draw last week against Portugal, who were missing star man Cristiano Ronaldo, only fanned the flames of criticism.

But a below-par display from the visitors meant Egypt, who remain winless since qualifying for the tournament, were easy pickings for the third-ranked Belgium team.

Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku scored his 34th international goal and club team-mate Marouane Fellaini nabbed the third goal in stoppage time.

In a post-match interview, Egypt coach Hector Cuper hinted that Salah might be fit for their Group A opener against Uruguay on June 15.

Fellow African side Nigeria also turned in a disappointing showing in their final World Cup tune-up, losing 1-0 to the Czech Republic, with Tomas Kalas scoring the winner.

Nigeria, who have lost three of their last four games and drawn the other, kick off their World Cup campaign against Croatia on June 16.

Yesterday, South Korea drew 0-0 with Bolivia in their penultimate warm-up match ahead of the World Cup. The 57th-ranked team face Senegal on Monday before their Group F opener against Sweden on June 18.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2018, with the headline 'Belgium pitch perfect despite off-field woes'. Print Edition | Subscribe