Eden Hazard has suggested that being rested for Belgium’s final World Cup group game against England might have disrupted the rhythm of his play ahead of their round-of-16 clash with Japan.
Hazard was among the nine changes made by Roberto Martinez for their last match, while Gareth Southgate similarly rested eight players, with both teams having already qualified for the knockout stages.
Belgium’s win mean they have a theoretically easier opponent in Japan, but the question of how being rested would impact players like Hazard — who will have waited nine days between Belgium’s second group game, against Tunisia, and the Japan tie — has not been widely discussed.
“We’ll see tomorrow,” Hazard said on Sunday, when asked if the long break would disrupt the players. “For us, who play in the Premier League, we’re happy to have a few more days off. We don’t have many resting days over the season.
“Personally, I like to play, and sometimes when I stop I’m not as good in the following match. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen tomorrow. We have good training sessions, and I’m sure we’ll be ready tomorrow.”
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez was more optimistic, and said the benefit of the extra rest would outweigh any potential negatives.
“The group is in a very good moment, mentally and physically,” he said. “You get the feeling that players are desperate to be on the pitch. The ones who played against England got a good experience, and the ones that have been rested, it’s like they’ve been waiting to get back on the pitch.
“If a player is rusty initially, they will get used to it eventually, and feel the benefit later in the game.”
This is perhaps Belgium’s best chance of going deep into a World Cup, with many of the pre-tournament favourites either out or playing in unconvincing fashion in their games so far.
“It’s time to shine, definitely,” Hazard said. “We have top players, and we play as a group. We have 23 players, which we saw against England. We need to play together, give everything then see what happens.
“I’m a lot stronger than two, four years ago. I have more experience, definitely. Knockout matches have a lot to do with experience, even when you have good talents. Most of us are between 25-33, so we have the same level of maturity.
“We know what to do and not what to do. Japan is totally different to Wales [who knocked Belgium out of Euro 2016], and we’ll take this as seriously as possible. If we think it’s going to be easy tomorrow, we may lose.”