Belgium’s Eden Hazard capped a superb individual performance with a magnificent solo goal as they thrashed Hungary 4-0 to reach the Euro 2016 quarter-finals but coach Marc Wilmots still wants more from his captain.
Hazard struggled along with his team mates during Belgium’s opening defeat by Italy but completed a hat-trick of assists at the tournament when his sublime cross was met by substitute Michy Batshuayi for Belgium’s second goal on Sunday.
He killed the contest with a stunning low strike 94 seconds later, rounding off a masterful display which he later described as his best for the country as they ran out clear winners by the biggest margin recorded at this year’s tournament so far.
“If he’s feeling good, he’s the best in the world,” goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said after Hazard’s contribution helped clinch a last eight tie against Wales in Lille on Friday.
The forward has now contributed as many assists in France as he managed for Chelsea during the whole of a miserable 2015-16 Premier League season, and appears to be thriving after being given made skipper in Vincent Kompany’s injury absence.
“There are a lot of people who are amazed that I gave him the captain’s armband but you have to let this little man grow up,” said Wilmots. “He doesn’t talk much but he talks with his feet and that’s what he did today.
“I told him that I wanted him to score a goal by cutting inside. He needs to have fun when he’s on the pitch.”
After his excellent showing, Hazard will be expected to produce a cutting edge more consistently for Belgium.
At the 2014 World Cup, his assists helped beat Algeria and Russia in the group stage before they eventually went out to Argentina in the quarter-finals.
While Hazard has scored against the likes of Andorra, Cyprus and Israel he has struggled to make an impact against bigger sides, with France, Slovakia and Sweden the only Euro 2016 qualifiers against whom he’s previously found the net.
“I know what he’s capable of and I’ve told him I want him to have a go, to shoot,” Wilmots added. “He must dare.”
After his dazzling display on Sunday, Belgium will expect Hazard to perform when it matters most as they aim to reach their first major final since the 1980 European Championship.