Hazard carries the hopes of the nation

Belgium's forward Eden Hazard.
Belgium's forward Eden Hazard.
Image: Manan VATSYAYANA / AFP

Eden Hazard is one of the French academy system's finest exports in the past decade but he could be the man to end Didier Deschamps's bid for World Cup glory.

Born to two footballing parents in the Belgian municipality of Braine-le-Comte, Hazard's reputation spread across the border and saw him snapped up by Lille at the age of 14.

Two years later Hazard made his professional debut in Ligue 1 and went on to become French football's brightest talent, twice winning the league's player of the year prize and leading Lille to a Ligue 1 and cup double in 2010-11.

When a big-money move inevitably came, it was Chelsea who won the race for his signature in 2012.

In six seasons in England, Hazard has won two more league titles and won plenty of admirers. So far in Russia, he looks like a man on a mission to ensure Belgium's so-called golden generation live up to their billing by bringing home the World Cup for the first time in the country's history.

Handed the armband by Roberto Martinez despite Vincent Kompany's return from injury, the Spaniard has drawn out Hazard's leadership qualities.

The player's willingness and ability to carry the ball under pressure, jinking past helpless defenders, was in evidence as Belgium claimed their greatest-ever World Cup scalp by beating Brazil in the quarterfinals.

His leadership was also in evidence with a man-of-the-match performance, including a wonderful assist for Marouane Fellaini's equaliser, as the Red Devils came from 2-0 down to beat Japan 3-2 in the last 16.

At 27, he has not hidden his ambition to finally make an impact on the Champions League, which Chelsea missed out on after a disappointing fifth-placed finish in the Premier League last season.

As a child, Hazard used to study videos of the man who led France to the World Cup in 1998 to hone and copy his skills. Twenty years on, he's just two games away from matching Zinedine Zidane's feat. 

X