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Beware Hazard up ahead

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With Brazil looming large, will the immense talents of Belgium's mercurial Eden prevail or will he be anonymous as he's been in big games before?

World Cup - Belgium Training

Eden Hazard leads his team into tonight’s World Cup quarter-final match against Brazil on a stage built to showcase his talent but whether Belgium get the full benefit of his mercurial ability is to be seen.

Hazard is undoubtedly one of the stars of the tournament in Russia and at 27-years-old, wearing the captain’s armband, at the peak of his powers.

But there is always a nagging doubt that when the going gets tough, the attacking midfielder might once again prove anonymous.

It happened at the last World Cup in Brazil and two years ago at the European Championship when Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ stood on the brink of delivering on their potential but then imploded.

Attacking flair

In the 2014 quarter-final against Argentina he was replaced after 75 ineffective minutes as Lionel Messi won their head-to-head in a 1-0 victory.

Two years later, the stage was set for him to lead Belgium past outsiders Wales in the Euro quarter-finals but, in the face of determined defending, he faded when it mattered most and drifted out of the game with a shock 3-1 loss.

Hazard is admired for his attacking flair, ability to run at defences and finishing but it is his maverick genius that sets him apart.

“Ice baths, massages, he doesn’t really do all that stuff,” teammate Marouane Fellaini in a TV documentary over Hazard.

Michy Batshuayi told of his amazement when Hazard went to the Chelsea gym for the first time – four years after he first signed for the club.

“I told him recently that he must thank God for the talent he has been given. He answered, ‘Maybe I should thank him a little’,” recalled ex club-mate Demba Ba.

It all comes easy to Hazard, rarely bothered by the pressure and expectation. That supposed indifference was often a cause of irritation for managers such as Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte. But Belgium see what he is capable of and have placed their faith firmly in him.

“He’s a not a natural leader like Kompany but rather a leader who shows through example on the field,” Thomas Meunier said.

“He’s got extraordinary qualities, does things other players cannot. And you don’t just run him over. He’s very strong on his feet so it’s difficult to take the ball off him. I think he’s the complete player.”

Ominously for Brazil, his teammates believe Hazard is in the form of his life and ready to deliver.

“I’ve known him for years and the way he has trained and played over the last weeks has been exceptional,” said goalkeeper Thibault Courtois.“He can reach another level.”