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SPORTS UPDATE

Hazard still one of world’s best, says Belgium coach

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez says he believes Eden Hazard is still “one of the best in the world” at his position despite the forward’s injury-plagued spell at Real Madrid.

Hazard has started just one game for Madrid this season but captained his country in their Nations League matches against Wales and the Netherlands last month.

His limited minutes at club level have sparked debate over his role at the World Cup next month, but Martinez insists the 31-year-old remains a key component of the squad.

“Is Eden Hazard still an important player for the national team? Yes, 100 percent,” Martinez told state broadcaster RTBF.

“I think his experience, the way he affects the opposition, the way he’s still beating players, he’s creating a real threat.

“For me it’s a profile that is one of the best in the world in terms of being able to play.”

Belgium finished third at the 2018 World Cup after losing to eventual champions France 1-0 in the semi-finals.

The Red Devils lost to Italy in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 without the injured Hazard, who has scored just seven times for Madrid since joining more than three years ago.

“Nobody is trying to look away from the reality. Eden hasn’t played consistently for a long, long time,” said Martinez.

“Another question is can he play for 90 minutes? Can he play seven games in a short period of time?

“This is something that’s very different and could change a lot in the next five weeks.”

Belgium have been drawn alongside Canada, Morocco and 2018 runners-up Croatia in Group F in Qatar.

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