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Belgium’s time to shine at World Cup, says Hazard

Rostov-on-Don (Russia) (AFP) – Eden Hazard says Belgium have a new level of maturity as they prepare to take on Japan, eyeing a World Cup quarter-final spot against Brazil or Mexico.

A so-called “golden generation” of Belgian stars are running out of time to win a major title but Hazard said they have a chance to make their rich talents count in Russia.

“This is our time to shine, definitely. We have top players and we play as a group, especially after the win over England,” said the Chelsea star. “It’s in our hands, we need to give everything and see what happens.

“I am also a lot stronger than four years ago in Brazil. That was the first major tournament for many of us, knockout matches have a lot to do with experience and can be complicated.

“We have the same level of maturity across the team, which will make a difference this time.”

With Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and Lionel Messi’s Argentina — both in the same half of the draw — out of the tournament, Hazard wants Belgium to reach the final for the first time in their history.

However, he refused to look past Japan towards a potential quarter-final against Mexico or Brazil.  

“We are just focused on this game. Messi and Ronaldo are out, but there are still a lot of players like me who also want to go to the final too, so let’s see,” said Hazard.

Coach Roberto Martinez is set to start with a full-strength side after resting nine players, including Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne, in the 1-0 win over England that saw Belgium win their group.

“The squad is in a very good place, mentally and physically,” said Martinez.

“The ones who played against England are desperate to contribute again and those who were rested want to get out on the pitch.”

However, Martinez warned that Japan, who scraped into the last 16 because they had a better disciplinary record than Senegal, could hurt his team.

“They have incredible energy, get up the pitch fast and are organised,” said Martinez.

“They are a generation with a good age and have a lot of experience, with players like (Shinji) Kagawa and (Keisuke) Honda. They know what needs to be done to win.

“We will have to pay attention because they are used to causing teams problems in both boxes.”

The Belgians are wary of over-confidence against Japan, two years after they lost to Wales in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016.

“We know what to do and what not to do, we are better off,” insisted Hazard. “Two years ago we had a few injuries. Japan are a different team to Wales, we’ll learn the lessons.”

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