Eden Hazard is feeling strong and happy according to Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez, who urged the Real Madrid attacker to build on his performance in a 2-0 win over Finland.

After coming on as a substitute in Belgium's two opening matches at Euro 2020, Hazard started against Finland and posed Markku Kanerva's side problems alongside Romelu Lukaku and Jeremy Doku.

Hazard, who battled through an injury-plagued 2020-21 season in which he made just 14 LaLiga appearances, played all 90 minutes against Finland and impressed his coach.

Martinez told reporters: "He [Hazard] pushed himself and got into good positions.

"He looks free, twisting right and left. He feels strong, happy, his body is reacting well.

"The next step is now to see Eden with that final pass, that shot that finishes in the back of the net.

"I was delighted with his performance."

Since losing 1-0 to France in the semi-final of the 2018 World Cup, Belgium have scored in 33 consecutive matches in all competitions.

Victory over Finland ensured Belgium have won all three group games at back-to-back major tournaments (2018 World Cup and Euro 2020), and booked them a round of 16 match against the third-placed side from Group A, D, E or F in Seville on Sunday.

Belgium's most recent match in Spain ended in a 5-0 loss to the home side in a 2010 World Cup qualifier featuring Hazard alongside Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen.

Martinez underlined the importance of his side hitting top gear, saying: "This team has been very consistent over the last five years. It's now about getting every individual at their very best.

"We're going to play in Seville and we'll need to adapt and have every player ready and prepared to make the team better."

Eden Hazard is realistic about the strain an injury-hit two years at Real Madrid has put on his body, as he prepares to start for the first time in Euro 2020.

Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has confirmed Hazard, who came on as a substitute in Belgium's opening Group B games – wins over Russia and Denmark – will feature from the off in Monday's match against Finland in St Petersburg.

Hazard teed up Kevin De Bruyne's sweetly struck winner against Denmark last time out, taking his tally of assists to five in seven career appearances for Belgium at the Euros. Since at least 1980, his average of an assist every 98 minutes is the best of any player to have played at least five times in the competition.

The 30-year-old showed flashes of his quality, after what has been another injury-hampered season in the Spanish capital. Across the 2020-21 season, Hazard managed just 896 minutes of game time in all competitions, making 21 appearances in total.

Of those appearances, only 11 were starts, with Hazard scoring four goals and setting up a further two, creating 10 chances in total.

Though the former Chelsea star insists he still has full belief in his abilities, injuries have started to take a toll.

"I never doubted my qualities, but whether I would be 100 per cent fit for the European Championship was going to be a question," Hazard told a news conference on Sunday.

"I broke my ankle three times, it will never be the same as 10 years ago. But I know that when I am in shape, that I can prove myself on the field and that's what I'm working on now.

"I'm not 100 per cent yet, but I'm ready to start. But that was the plan, to bring me along gradually. It's especially important to be completely fit in the knockout phase. Then I have to be in top shape."

 

While stating he is ready to play from the off, Hazard also conceded he may not be able to complete the match.

"We will see how the match goes, but I may not be ready for 90 minutes, but I will play as many minutes as possible at a high level," he said.

"If it is 50 minutes, it will be 50. If it is 60, it will be 60. We'll see."

While Hazard will feature against Finland, his younger brother Thorgan – who netted Belgium's equaliser against Denmark – will not.

The Borussia Dortmund wideman, who has been playing at wing-back in Martinez's 3-4-3 system, will miss out due to a knee injury.

"He's just going to miss a game," Martinez explained.

"He should be back with the squad on Thursday or Friday. He had a knee injury, nothing serious. This game against Finland just comes 24 hours too early."

Belgium will aim to end a seven-match winless run in their rivalry with Finland when the sides meet in Monday's Euro 2020 Group B clash at Saint Petersburg Stadium.

The Red Devils have defeated Russia 3-0 and Denmark 2-1 in their opening two games and are assured of a place in the knockout stages.

However, Roberto Martinez's side may require a point to secure top spot and a meeting with one of the best third-placed sides in the last 16.

Belgium do not have the best of records against Finland, drawing three and losing four of the last seven meetings since their last win in this fixture 53 years ago.

The world's top-ranked side head into this latest encounter as heavy favourites, though, and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is targeting top spot.

"It's prestigious to win the group, so that is something we are definitely going for," Courtois said.

"Sure, the next phase might actually be easier if you're not the group winner, but in football there can always be surprises.

"At the World Cup we seemed to have a tougher time against Japan than against Brazil. You can't try to calculate these things, you just always have to play to win."

Finland beat Denmark 1-0 in their opener – a game overshadowed by the cardiac arrest suffered by Christian Eriksen – before falling to defeat by the same scoreline to Russia.

The Eagle Owls would advance with a win against Belgium, or a draw if Russia lose to Denmark, otherwise they are relying on being one of the best-ranked third-placed sides.

They have mustered just two shots on target across their first two matches, with no team previously managing fewer than four across their three group games in the competition since records began in 1980.

"We created more against Russia, but the final pass was still not ideal," head coach Markku Kanerva said. "We need to improve on that.

"The players are in good spirits and we will do everything to get something out of the game. We all know Belgium's quality and are aware that we are facing a really tough task."

 

 


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Finland – Joel Pohjanpalo

Bayer Leverkusen striker Pohjanpalo wrote his name in Finland folklore by scoring his country's first – and so far only – goal at a major tournament with his header against Denmark.

He had another goal cruelly ruled out for offside against Russia and is accountable for 42 per cent of his side's shots at Euro 2020 so far (5/12), with no other Finland player recording more than two attempts.

Kanerva could do with others helping out in attack, such as a not-fully-fit Teemu Pukki, but Finland's hopes of progression seemingly weigh largely on the shoulders of Pohjanpalo on the basis of the last two games.

Belgium – Eden Hazard

Martinez has confirmed that Kevin De Bruyne and Hazard, who both assisted from the bench against Denmark, will start this concluding group game as they continue to work their way back to full fitness.

Hazard has made five assists in seven appearances for Belgium at the European Championship at an average of one every 98 minutes, which is the best rate of any player to have made five appearances in the competition since 1980, the point from which such records are available.

The Real Madrid forward may have endured a frustrating time of things during his two seasons with Real Madrid, but he showed during his cameo appearance in Copenhagen that he still has plenty to offer in this talented Belgium side.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– None of the last five encounters between Finland and Belgium have produced more than two goals.

– Belgium have won their final group-stage game in each of their last four major tournament appearances (Euros and World Cup), since losing 2-0 against Turkey at Euro 2000.

– Each of Finland's two matches at Euro 2020 has ended 1-0. The only team to have three consecutive matches ending 1-0 in the same European Championship tournament were Greece at Euro 2004, who won the trophy that year.

– Belgium will be looking to win 100 per cent of their group games for the second consecutive major tournament (3/3 at the 2018 World Cup), while it would be the first time they have won all of their group-stage games in a single edition of the Euros.

– After winning four consecutive matches in October and November 2020, Finland have won just one of their last eight games in all competitions (D2 L5), failing to find the net in three of their last four games.

Belgium and the Netherlands joined Italy in booking their place in the knockout stages of Euro 2020 with victories over Denmark and Austria respectively.

The world's top-ranked side Belgium had to bounce back from a goal down to beat an inspired Denmark, with both teams paying tribute to Christian Eriksen after 10 minutes as the midfielder continues his recovery from a cardiac arrest.

Roberto Martinez's side need a point in their final Group B match to make certain of top spot, but the Netherlands are already through as Group C winners after seeing off Austria.

Ukraine also picked up all three points against North Macedonia in Thursday's action – just their second-ever victory at the European Championships.

Using Opta data, we take a look at some of the best facts from across the day's action.

Ukraine 2-1 North Macedonia: Shevchenko's men end losing Euros streak

Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk were on target for the second match running to end Ukraine's six-game losing streak at the European Championships.

With Yarmolenko and Yaremchuk's first-half goals, Ukraine became the first nation to have the same two players score in their first two games at a single Euros.

Ezgjan Alioski pulled one back at the second attempt after his penalty was saved, making it two goals in three games – as many as in his previous 17 for North Macedonia.

His penalty was given after a foul on Goran Pandev, who – at at 37 years and 325 days – is the oldest player to win a spot-kick in the Euros since data was first recorded in 1980.

Ruslan Malinovskyi failed to convert from 12 yards late on in a game which saw both sides win a penalty in the competition for the first time since England v France in 2004.

It means four of the six penalties taken at Euro 2020 have not been converted. The last tournament with more was Euro 2000 (five).

Denmark 1-2 Belgium: Red Devils bounce back from early setback

Belgium showed why they are ranked number one in the world as they recovered from an early setback to make it 11 wins from their last 12 group games at major competitions.

However, they had to do things the hard way after Yussuf Poulsen struck early on in Copenhagen.

Poulsen opened the scoring after 99 seconds – the second-earliest goal ever in the tournament, behind only Dmitry Kirichenko for Russia against Greece in 2004 (65 seconds).

The one shot on target Belgium managed in the first half came via Dries Mertens, who was earning his 100th cap for his country – the fifth Belgian to reach that landmark.

But the half-time introduction of Kevin De Bruyne for Mertens transformed the Red Devils, the playmaker setting up Thorgan Hazard's leveller and then drilling in the winner.

De Bruyne's fantastic strike was teed up by Eden Hazard, who joins the Manchester City star as the two European players to assist a goal at each of the last four major tournaments.

Belgium survived a nervy finish as they won their first two European Championship matches for the first time, while Denmark have lost their first two for the first time since 2000.

Netherlands 2-0 Austria: Faultless Oranje ease through

The Netherlands followed up their opening-game win against Ukraine with a routine victory against Austria in Amsterdam.

It is the third time the Oranje have won their opening two Euros matches, having previously done so in 2000 and 2008, when they exited the competition at the semi-final and quarter-final stage respectively.

Frank de Boer's men are now unbeaten in their last nine matches at major tournaments, which is the longest run by a European nation since Portugal went 12 without defeat between 2014 and 2018.

Memphis Depay opened the scoring for the Netherlands from the penalty spot, the Lyon forward's eighth goal for his country since De Boer took charge last September, with only Belgium's Romelu Lukaku scoring more (10) across all competitions for a European side over that period.

Denzel Dumfries added the second goal and is just the second Netherlands player to net in his first two appearances at the Euros after Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2004, this after the right-back failed to score in his first 19 senior caps.

One of the unsung stars for the hosts was Dumfries' fellow defender Matthijs de Ligt, who completed 100 per cent of his 40 passes – a record for a Netherlands player in a European Championship match since records began in 1980.

Roberto Martinez says he has never seen "carefree" Eden Hazard work so hard and is also hopeful of having Kevin De Bruyne back to fitness for Belgium's clash with Denmark.

Hazard has been blighted by injuries during his two seasons at Real Madrid and was not deemed ready to start Belgium's 3-0 win over Russia in Saturday's Group B opener.

The 30-year-old played the final 18 minutes in Saint Petersburg – only his second international outing in 19 months, six days after coming on as a substitute against Croatia.

He managed only 18 touches of the ball during his time on the field, but Martinez is pleased with the progress being made by the Madrid forward to get back to his best.

"I've never seen him work so hard off the field," Martinez said at a news conference on Sunday. "As a captain, he feels the responsibility. From the first day he was with us, he works hard.

"Against Russia, that's the first time I've seen a carefree Hazard. Before that I always saw him thinking on the pitch.

"Now he is playing more intuitively, making moves and getting away from defenders. The challenge now is to last for 90 minutes.

"He worked individually again today, but he will get more minutes against Denmark and even more against Finland, when he should be able to play the full 90."

De Bruyne played no part in Belgium's comfortable win against Russia, secured thanks to a couple of Romelu Lukaku goals and one for Thomas Meunier.

The Manchester City man is recovering from the fractured nose and left orbital he sustained in his club side's loss to Chelsea in the Champions League final two weeks ago.

However, De Bruyne has a chance of being ready in time to feature against Denmark in Copenhagen on Thursday.

"He will resume training tomorrow," Martinez said. "After that we'll evaluate whether he can come to Copenhagen with us to play against Denmark."

Martinez also revealed that Axel Witsel will make a surprise return to action next week, just five months after tearing his Achilles tendon while playing for Borussia Dortmund.

"My idea was to have him start against Finland for the first time," he said. "That's why I named him in the 26-man group.

"But since he is ahead of schedule, he will be given some minutes against Denmark."

Belgium will be looking to build on a run of just one defeat in their last 24 matches in all competitions when they travel to Denmark.

The Danes lost 1-0 to Finland in their Group B opener, a game that was overshadowed by Christian Eriksen suffering a cardiac arrest during the first half.

Eriksen was given CPR on the pitch by medics and is now "awake" and recovering in hospital.

Denmark's players returned to the field less than two hours later and were beaten by a Joel Pohjanpalo goal, with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg missing from the penalty spot.

"They were not themselves against Finland," Martinez said. "The circumstances with Eriksen weighed on the group. 

"We can expect a different Denmark and a very tough game on Thursday. You cannot compare the circumstances

"That will be a very emotional game, especially before kick-off. They have a very strong team, as we know from the Nations League. 

"The Danes will also have the support of the fans. But we need those kinds of matches. The match should be a celebration in honour of Eriksen, as it were."

Denmark and Belgium's only previous meeting at a major tournament was in the group stages of Euro 1984, the Danes winning that one 3-2 after recovering from two goals down.

Widespread concern met the decision for Denmark and Finland to return to the pitch less than two hours after Christian Eriksen had first collapsed in Copenhagen on Saturday.

An alarming incident prompted serious fears for Eriksen's life, fears that were eased but not eradicated by positive updates on the midfielder's condition.

For those watching from afar, the swift restart could not have been anticipated. There was wonder instead for how Belgium and Russia could possibly play later.

The Belgium squad features Eriksen's Inter team-mate Romelu Lukaku and long-term Ajax and Tottenham colleagues Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.

But, sure enough, confirmation was forthcoming of the resumption in Group B's first fixture, set for 20:30 CET, with Belgium's kick-off to follow as scheduled half an hour later.

Understandably, Denmark turned in a distracted display. Lacking the same enthusiasm as earlier, they fell to a 1-0 defeat that would usually have been considered a major upset. Few were thinking about Finland's historic result, minds focused instead on Eriksen.

Indeed, it was a similar story in Saint Petersburg, even if Russia made for accommodating hosts.

Lukaku profited from hapless Andrey Semenov defending and finished ruthlessly after 10 minutes. Rather than revel in his eighth tournament goal – the most of any Belgium player – the forward made for a nearby television camera.

"Chris," he bellowed, reaching the lens. "Chris, stay strong. I love you."

Eriksen occupied Lukaku's thoughts even at a moment of apparent elation, an action that backed up the words of UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.

"At these times, the unity of the football family is so strong and [Eriksen] and his family carry with them the good wishes and prayers of everyone," Ceferin said.

Further tributes will follow and it is difficult to imagine how that agonising Parken Stadium wait for family, friends, team-mates, opponents and fans, eager for any news at all as medical staff worked at length, does not overshadow the entire tournament.

Lukaku will hope there is at least time for some Belgian cheer before the Euros concludes at Wembley next month.

If Eriksen continues to recover, the Red Devils striker can allow his attention to return to the professional task at hand: finally delivering finals glory for his country.

Now or never is the popular verdict. Belgium entered this competition with a squad that boasts the most caps and ranks second oldest, behind only Sweden.

Lukaku is 28 and should play at Qatar 2022 and beyond, but some of his team-mates may not.

While the defence is undoubtedly ageing, the injury issues that are dogging other star names have become increasingly, frustratingly regular.

As Belgium reached the latter stages of Brazil 2014, Euro 2016 and Russia 2018 – only France also figured in the quarter-finals of all three tournaments – no outfield players started more matches than Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Axel Witsel (all 15 – tied with Alderweireld).

In 2020-2021, the trio were restricted to 11, 36 and 18 club starts respectively.

Hazard, having dealt with a series of muscle problems, started from the bench on Saturday. De Bruyne (orbital fracture) and Witsel (torn Achilles tendon) are both still recovering.

"Those are players who have something extra," said Dries Mertens, who took up one of the vacant attacking roles. "To not have three players like that, we're going to feel that, but we have to step up and be ready."

Leander Dendoncker stepped in for Witsel and said: "Axel has such a massive role in the squad, so it's logical we're talking about him. Kevin and Eden aren't here now either, and we're all talking about their absence. It's normal; they've earned it."

But it was Lukaku who ensured that absence was not felt. His clinical opener wrecked Russian dreams and might have been quickly followed by a second had Georgi Dzhikiya not expertly intervened. There were two minutes remaining when he belatedly hit the net again for Belgium's third, celebrated in more traditional fashion.

The Nerazzurri superstar has now been involved in 26 goals (22 goals, four assists) in his 19 games for Belgium since the World Cup.

Of Lukaku's nine finals goals, only one has arrived in the knockout stages, but this early effort was crucial in seizing control of the group. On this form, he will surely also add to that tally.

For all that this was an impressive win as Hazard featured sparingly and two key midfielders not at all, there is an argument – at least from those studying their wallcharts – Belgium might actually be better served finishing second in their pool. That could potentially mean no repeat of 2018, when they landed in the trickier half of the draw and met France in the last four. The same scenario is very possible again from first place.

That was not something for Lukaku to worry about on this occasion, though.

His friend's welfare was of primary concern, and then a talismanic outing to lift spirits just a little at the end of a tough day for football.

Roberto Martinez will not rush Eden Hazard back into Belgium's starting line-up and says Kevin De Bruyne looks "fresh" and "ready" for Euro 2020.

Hazard has been blighted by injuries since joining Real Madrid from Chelsea two years ago and there have been concerns over his fitness for the European Championship.

The winger gave the Red Devils a lift on Sunday, though, making his first international appearance for 19 months as a late substitute in a 1-0 victory over Croatia.

Belgium boss Martinez will be patient with Hazard, who looks set to be on the bench for the Group B opener against Russia at Saint Petersburg Stadium on Saturday.

The Spaniard said: "I think the target for Eden was to be on the pitch and I think that was almost a psychological step. You need to be on the pitch, in a match scenario and it doesn't matter the minutes.

"It wasn't the case Eden needs to play bigger chunks of time on the pitch but I think the next step now will be in training to try to get the match intensity, but I was very pleased in the way that Eden came on, affected the pace of the because it's very hard to come on as a substitute to adapt to the pace of the game.

"It was a needed step, it wasn't about the minutes, it was about being able to do make that step without risk, in a safe manner and that is what we did."

Martinez is unsure when Hazard will be in a position to play an entire game, but says that is not essential.

He added: "I think it will be difficult to tell when he will be ready. It will depend on a lot of things; how the game goes, what is the scoreline, how demanding the game can be in and out of possession.

"What is important is now he is medically fit and now we have a good build-up of five days before the Russia game and then it will be about quality.

"It's not going to be about playing minutes, it's going to be about being able to see Eden Hazard with a big smile on his face and when he's on the pitch he can make the difference.

"I'm not too concerned about the minutes and I think it's a different approach, it's a tournament where we need to think we have five substitutes. It's not a lot about the starting XI, it's about every player when he's on the pitch can make a contribution.

"Five substitutes means almost 50 per cent of the outfield players can almost share the minutes, so I think that approach is going to be very important in this tournament."

Midfielder De Bruyne linked up with the Belgium squad on Monday as he recovers from the fractured nose and left orbital he suffered in Manchester City's Champions League final loss to Chelsea.

Martinez will take no risks with De Bruyne against Russia but gave a positive update on the playmaker's condition after he underwent surgery.

"Kevin De Bruyne has joined the group and that’s fantastic news," said the former Everton manager. "He looks ready, he looks fresh and just for him walking into the dining room was a real highlight of the day.

"He watched the game [against Croatia] and he's already in the mood of the team and is looking forward to slowly taking his own pace with the medical team. But it makes a big difference when he's with the players and is part of the group."

Asked how De Bruyne's recovery is going, Martinez replied: "Very well, the medical intervention went extremely well. It's still a very fresh one, so will take a few days, but the initial reaction has been really positive and he seems ready. He’s looking more forwards than backwards."

Romelu Lukaku was on target and Eden Hazard made a long-awaited international return as Belgium beat Croatia 1-0 in their final Euro 2020 warm-up game.

The impressive Lukaku struck in the first half at King Baudouin Stadium on Sunday to give the Red Devils a deserved victory.

Injury-blighted Hazard came off the bench late on to make his first Belgium appearance for 19 months, just six days before Roberto Martinez's side face Russia in their first match of the European Championship.

Zlatko Dalic's Croatia side lacked a cutting edge in Brussels a week prior to their opening game of Euro 2020 against England at Wembley.

Croatia started positively but the Red Devils started to look increasingly threatening, Nacer Chadli blazing over the crossbar from outside the penalty area.

Lukaku was proving a real handful and the striker rattled the post with a left-footed strike after turning sharply, with Yannick Carrasco heading against the crossbar following up.

Croatia were made to pay by Lukaku seven minutes before the break after some slack defending, the prolific Inter frontman drilling home with his right foot from six yards after Jason Denayer nodded the ball into his path.

Bruno Petkovic twice called Thibaut Courtois into action early in the second half as Croatia went in search of an equaliser.

Carrasco spurned a good opportunity to double the Red Devils' lead when he sliced wide and a Lukaku header deflected off target.

Croatia boss Dalic made a whole host of changes in the second half, but Belgium saw out the victory and Real Madrid man Hazard gave them another lift when he came on with nine minutes to go.

Hazard was given a short outing and Lukaku came close to a second goal when his close-range header was superbly kept out by Dominik Livakovic.

Josip Brekalo could have snatched a stoppage-time equaliser, but his shot was well saved by Courtois as Belgium held on for the win.

Roberto Martinez has confirmed Kevin De Bruyne will be fit for Euro 2020, albeit the Belgium star may not be able to feature in the opening game.

Martinez had been confident his talisman would be available for the tournament despite a facial injury suffered in Manchester City's Champions League final defeat to Chelsea.

De Bruyne sustained a fractured nose and left orbital in a collision with Antonio Rudiger, and was clearly in distress as he left the field in Porto.

However, after medical assessments and a minor surgical "intervention" – as Martinez described it – De Bruyne has been passed fit to link up with Belgium's squad on Monday.

"After looking at the images, it was decided Kevin needed a little bit of an intervention and that has taken place today, everything went really well, really positive, so we're looking forward to Kevin joining us on Monday, and he will join the squad for the Euros," Martinez told a news conference on Sunday.

Explaining the procedure, which should allow De Bruyne to play without needing to wear a mask, Martinez said: "I'm not the right person to talk in medical terms, it was just necessary for the long-term structure of the eye socket.

"It wasn't the type of surgery that is for the full structure of the front of the bone, it was just to make sure in the long-term there are no issues, but it is not a surgery as such that he needs a long time recovery, it was just to make sure the area was stronger, it took 20 minutes, went really well and the medical department are really happy.

"He's really good, he's in good spirits and can't wait to get on the pitch. This is not a surgery that stops you getting back in activities, it is the opposite, it gives you the opportunity to not need protection to play, so that's been really good news from that point of view and it's been done at the right time to see Kevin involved in the squad.

"If anything it has accelerated [his comeback] because he doesn't need protection. We believe that the area of the fracture, medically, he could even exercise without a mask, so in the medical process you need to take every day, and then when the swelling went down they were very happy. 

"Because of this support in the eye socket, the structures are stronger than normal, so it's not an area that he'll need a mask, but probably in the next few days we can get the doctor to speak in more detail."

However, De Bruyne is unlikely to be available for Belgium's opening group game against Russia on June 12.

"We were always taking the timeline of him not being involved in the first game, I don't think medically that has changed, but we need to take it day by day," Martinez added.

"I can only give you clear, specific timelines when the players are training, when they are in a treatment room and in medical care, it's impossible to put that timeline. We've got another 28 players who have been working extremely well."

While De Bruyne may be out of the Russia clash, Belgium's other star playmaker, Eden Hazard, is expected to be fit, with Martinez confirming the Real Madrid forward will feature against Croatia in a friendly on Sunday.

"Eden is almost free in every area. He had a really good workout and I feel he's fit for tomorrow," Martinez said.

"It's more a case of an introduction into the game. I don't think he'll start the game, but I think he'll finish the game, and it'll be a period to make sure he's back in a game scenario. From a physical, medical point of view, he's ready.

"Eden is someone who enjoys being on the football pitch, it's second nature. The hardest moments a player has is when you're injured and cannot do what you're really good at. I see Eden with a good feeling, now it's about building that confidence in order to push himself to the limit."

The year-long delay to Euro 2020 has shifted the narrative for a host of stars, and meant the long wait for a return to the big stage has been extended for others.

Now, though, Europe's elite are set to battle it out as Portugal defend the title they won in France five years ago.

Some players enter the competition in great form and with little baggage, but for others this month-long tournament is a chance to make a big splash, or live up to long-held expectations.

Here, Stats Perform looks at two famous footballing nations, four big-name stars and a coach who bows out of his current job and may have designs on his next assignment.

Gareth Bale: Finished or a new beginning?

The wing wizard can do little wrong in the eyes of Wales and Tottenham supporters, and perhaps now there is a glimmer of hope for his Real Madrid career.

At the end of a season-long loan at Spurs, it seemed likely Bale would head back to Madrid and spend the final year of his contract largely on the sidelines. His future looked to be one of training, playing the odd Copa del Rey game and making fleeting LaLiga appearances, and spending his happiest hours on the region's best golf courses.

Now that Zinedine Zidane has moved on, that could change all of a sudden, and Bale has an immediate chance to make an impression on new Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti when he captains Wales at the Euros.

Bale joined Madrid in 2013, when Ancelotti was embarking on his first spell at the Santiago Bernabeu, but his career in Spain looked to have all but conked out 12 months ago.

The door certainly seems open for the 31-year-old to do just that as, in his presentation news conference at Madrid, Ancelotti said: "Gareth has not played much in the Premier League [in 2020-21], but he scored lots of goals, and was very effective in recent games when he had a chance to play.

"He is coming back, I know him very well, he will be motivated to play better and have a great season, no doubt."

At Spurs, he scored 16 goals across all competitions at an average of one every 104.44 minutes, and his match fitness appeared to be building up nicely when the season ended.

Bale exceeded his expected goals (xG) total of 11.07 quite handsomely, and for the first time since the 2015-16 season he scored more goals than he had big chances.

He had 15 such chances, defined by Opta as situations "where a player should reasonably be expected to score".

Bale is said by some observers to be considering retiring after Euro 2020, but that could be a waste of a still-luminous talent and Ancelotti is sure to be closely watching.

Eden Hazard: Brilliant Belgian has been a Real disappointment

So often sparkling for Belgium and Chelsea in the past, Hazard has left Madrid supporters wondering what has happened to that fizz since he landed in Spain.

He started just seven games in LaLiga in the season just ended, a string of muscle injuries and a spell out with COVID-19 ruining his campaign.

When fit enough to feature, the forward's numbers have been way down on those that he produced – to take a pertinent example – during Belgium's Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

A fair way of assessing his figures is to look at how Hazard contributes for every 90 minutes he is involved with club and country, and the comparison between his displays in Belgium's run to reach this tournament and in 2020-21 at Madrid shows an alarming dip.

His chances created total per 90 minutes falls from 4.6 to 1.0, his number of touches of the ball slides from 95.1 to 73.8, and his dribbles attempted plummet from 7.4 with Belgium to 4.2 in Madrid's season.

His involvements in shot-ending sequences of play fall from 10.8 to 4.9 per 90 minutes, and analysis of goal-ending sequences shows his contribution drops from 1.9 with Belgium to 0.8 per 90 minutes with Madrid.

It bears remembering that Hazard has not had the run of games that would give him full match fitness. If Real Madrid fans want any succour, they can find it in his Belgium statistics and must hope the coming month sees the 30-year-old roll back his form a couple of years.

A fit and firing Hazard would be a huge asset to Ancelotti, who is expecting the former Chelsea star to have an impact next term.

"Hazard is a top player, he has had injury problems, and not shown his top potential yet here," Ancelotti said. "I believe he can do that next year, he wants to, is motivated."

 

Karim Benzema: Have France really missed him?

Nobody doubts Benzema's ability or his current form. Firing 23 goals for Real Madrid in LaLiga showed he is coming into Euro 2020 in great shape.

The thing is: few expected him to play any part in this tournament.

Off-field matters and an impending court case have seen Benzema frozen out by France, the 33-year-old sidelined from international duty since 2015 following allegations he had a part in a plot to blackmail former Les Bleus player Mathieu Valbuena.

Benzema strenuously denies any wrongdoing and for the duration of Euro 2020 he will aim to show what France have been missing in his absence. They managed to win the 2018 World Cup without him, and reach the final of Euro 2016, yet coach Didier Deschamps has decided his team need Benzema's presence for the coming month.

It could be a masterstroke or could go disastrously wrong, with France a national team who have combusted before during a big tournament.

Benzema last year made the snippy remark that Olivier Giroud was a go-kart and he, by contrast, was a Formula One car, but now they are rivals for selection.

Squad harmony is vital at any major championship, and Benzema's presence brings that little extra frisson. This gamble could go either way. Watching him and France will be fascinating.

Marcus Rashford: Making his pitch for a better England

Manchester United striker Rashford has been a pandemic social justice warrior, emerging as an inspirational figure as he battled for school children to avoid food poverty.

There is so much to admire about the 23-year-old Mancunian, who has also faced – and faced down – appalling racism on social media.

It would take a cold, cruel heart to begrudge Rashford a major moment on the pitch now, and that could come with England over the coming weeks.

On the international scene since just before Euro 2016, Rashford is now fixtures-and-fittings within the Three Lions set-up, but he has still yet to score at a World Cup or European Championship.

Before June's pre-Euros friendlies he had 40 caps and 11 goals and will want to improve his so-so goals-to-games ratio, which is partly explained by the fact only 20 of those caps came as a starter.

Golden Boot winner Harry Kane carried so much of the scoring burden for England at the last World Cup, and sometimes it takes two. Rashford scored three times in Euro 2020 qualifying and is coming off a 21-goal campaign with United, scoring on average once every 197.76 minutes.

The man who is effecting positive change in the way many live their lives, influencing politicians and shaping a better future for millions, could now do his country a massive favour on the football field.

 

Scotland: They're back, thanks to Mourinho's former right-hand man

Few in the Scotland team are long enough in the teeth to remember the last time the Tartan Army descended on a major tournament.

It was 1998, with the Scots giving Brazil a major test in the opening game at the Stade de France. A draw followed against Norway followed the 2-1 loss to the Selecao, before a dismal defeat to Morocco meant the campaign ended in crushing disappointment.

Hopes have flickered and foundered in the decades since, but Steve Clarke, once an assistant boss to Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, has led his team back to the big time.

With the likes of Andy Robertson, Scott McTominay and Che Adams, they possess Premier League quality, and two games Hampden promise to be nourishing for the soul.

Scotland is an expectant nation. That tends to end in intense disappointment at major tournaments, but optimism abounds as the games approach, the June 18 clash with England at Wembley ringed in the diary.

Italy: Blue skies again for Azzurri

It felt absurd that Italy should be absent from the 2018 World Cup, but they failed the meritocracy test of qualification when losing a play-off to Sweden.

That meant they were absent from football's great global gathering for the first time since 1958, and coach Gian Piero Ventura was swiftly given the heave-ho.

Enter Roberto Mancini, the former Inter and Manchester City boss who has led a scorching revival of the Azzurri, a team who won all 10 of their qualifiers and headed into June on a 26-game unbeaten run.

Wales, Turkey and Switzerland are the group-stage opposition for Italy, and the Turkey game in Istanbul gets the tournament underway.

They are a team perhaps without a superstar, but as Paolo Rossi and Toto Schillaci would attest, iconic Italian figures can emerge on the big stage.

Joachim Low: Hit for six, Germany go back to the future

After 15 years, Low will step down as Germany head coach following these finals. Many in Germany think he should have stepped aside already, but Low has powerful support within the DFB, the national federation.

A 6-0 defeat to Spain in the Nations League last November felt like an appalling nadir, with Germany outshot 23-2 in Seville and having just 30 per cent of possession.

Something had to change and it has, with Low summoning Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels out of the international exile he harshly imposed on the experienced pair over two years ago.

Low felt he could do without their talents but it proved a major misstep, and for Germany's sake they are back. What Low does next remains to be seen, but a strong Euro 2020 campaign with Germany would bolster his chances of landing any elite club job.

The 61-year-old was a World Cup winner seven years ago, but the most immediately telling part of his legacy will be written during this European summer.

Eden Hazard insists he has no intention of leaving Real Madrid just yet despite failing to hit the heights expected since his move from Chelsea.

Hazard signed a five-year contract with Madrid in 2019, joining for a reported initial fee of just over €100million after seven successful years at Stamford Bridge.

However, injuries have blighted the Belgium star's time in Spain, and he has only started 21 LaLiga matches over the past two seasons.

Hazard made the first XI only 11 times in 2020-21 in all competitions, scoring four times and providing two assists, while footage of him sharing a joke with former Chelsea team-mates after Madrid's Champions League semi-final defeat infuriated fans and media in the Spanish capital.

It has been reported Madrid are prepared to cut their losses on Hazard and listen to offers in the region of €50m in the next transfer window, but the 30-year-old is not prepared to give up on his Santiago Bernabeu career.

"I still have three years of contract at Real Madrid. I like the club. I like the players. I will give everything next season for this club. I don't see myself leaving Real Madrid now," he said on Monday.

"We all know the first two years has been bad because of the injuries. I know myself and I know if I'm fully fit, I can do great things for this club.

"First of all I want to think about the Euros, then I'll give everything for this club next season. That's my club.

"I still have good years ahead of me. I was injured at Chelsea and came back to a good level. I just need match rhythm. I don't have many minutes in my legs."

Asked to sum up his season, Hazard replied: "Unlucky.

"Everything has gone well since the start of my career. I've never had many injuries. It's been different for a year and a half.

"I know I can't put everything down to bad luck, but there's been a lot. The coronavirus crisis, the injuries. I was always strong when I could play lots of matches in a row; now, that wasn't possible.

"I'm close to my good level. I just have to get match rhythm now. I'll do everything I can not to get injured."

Hazard is with the Belgium squad preparing for friendly matches against Greece and Croatia this week.

Roberto Martinez's side begin their Euro 2020 campaign against Russia in St Petersburg on June 12.

Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos will be fit for a decisive weekend in LaLiga's title race, news that also hands Spain a major boost for Euro 2020.

Eden Hazard, though, has sustained an injury that will rule him out on Saturday, after head coach Zinedine Zidane delivered a pre-match injury update at his news conference.

Real Madrid are two points behind leaders and city rivals Atletico Madrid ahead of the final round of fixtures.

Atleti travel to relegation-threatened Real Valladolid while Real Madrid are at home to seventh-placed Villarreal.

If Atleti are crowned LaLiga champions it means Madrid will end the season without a major trophy, and there has been speculation that Zidane will quit as head coach.

But the presence of Ramos, who has been restricted to 15 top-flight appearances after sustaining a series of injuries this season, will lift the spirits of Madrid as well as giving Spain cause for cheer.

The defender has been out since he suffered a hamstring injury against Chelsea on May 5. That had been his first Madrid appearance for seven weeks after a previous absence.

"Yes, tomorrow he will be with us," Zidane said about Ramos. "Then, in the team, you will see him.

"I would always take Sergio [to the Euros if I was in charge] – always, whatever happens. He is one who always gives everything.

"Hazard has something. Not much, but we don't want to risk. If he doesn't train with the team, it's because something's wrong with him. That's it. So, he won't be there.

"It is a special day; it is the last game of a league with difficulties. We know who we are going to play against, a team that is doing very well. We are going to strive to get the three points."

Eden Hazard believes Lille winning Ligue 1 this season would be a greater achievement than when he inspired the club to a domestic double a decade ago.

Belgium star Hazard enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2010-11 when Lille won Ligue 1 and the Coupe de France.

He left for Chelsea after the following season, when he retained the Ligue 1 Player of the Year crown, but has kept a keen eye on Les Dogues ever since, having joined the club at 14 and progressed through the youth ranks.

"I owe almost everything to Lille," he said in an interview with the club's official website.

"If I am here today, it is partly thanks to the people I met in the north [of France], to the coaches, but also to all those whom I was able to meet during these years. 

"They all have a part in my success."

 

Christophe Galtier's current vintage will wrap up an improbable Ligue 1 success this weekend if they are able to match Paris Saint-Germain's result.

PSG are away at relegation-threatened Brest, while Lille travel to mid-table Angers, although last weekend's frustrating 0-0 draw against Saint-Etienne has done plenty to set nerves jangling – their advantage at the summit trimmed to a solitary point.

Bolstered by the lavish wealth of their Qatari owners, PSG have won seven of the past eight French titles, with Monaco's success in 2016-17 the outlier.

"Honestly, if [Lille] are champions this season, it would be even better than us in 2011, because there is now the Qatar version of PSG, which makes this championship even more difficult to win," Hazard added.

"The supporters deserve it. When we won this double, they had to wait over 50 years to see the club lift a trophy. And in this complicated period, it would be good for everyone. 

"The people of the north deserve it and especially the players."

Roberto Martinez said Eden Hazard's condition is the best he's had for a long time after picking the Real Madrid forward in his 26-man squad for Euro 2020.

Hazard features in the squad despite the former Chelsea star continuing to endure a difficult spell with Madrid.

He has once again battled several injuries during the 2020-21 campaign, limiting him to just seven starts in 14 LaLiga appearances.

Those appearances have resulted in three goals and a pair of assists, with Hazard creating six chances for his team-mates in the league.

But Martinez is now satisfied with his fitness levels, with the focus for Hazard now on finishing the season strong for Madrid, who host Villarreal on Saturday knowing they must better Atletico Madrid's result at Real Valladolid to win LaLiga.

Hazard played just 13 minutes in Sunday's 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao, touching the ball 18 times and without creating a single chance or having a shot at goal.

 

But Martinez told a media conference: "The situation with him is we know exactly where he is, his condition is the best he's had for a long time.

"The level of fitness is really satisfactory, we look also at how important he is for the national team. [It's] important he finishes the season strongly for Real Madrid." 

There are few surprises in the Belgium squad, with Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, FA Cup final hero Youri Tielemans and Dries Mertens all selected.

Divock Origi misses out after a season in which he has been involved in only nine Premier League games for Liverpool.

De Bruyne's involvement in the Champions League final on May 29 will have no impact on their preparations for the rescheduled tournament, Martinez stressed.

"The date we'll meet is the 31st May and we'll be preparing [for] two friendlies," he added. 

"De Bruyne is [our] only player in the final and will be joining the squad on 7th June. Each player's individual needs are being catered for.

"Each player will have the same break and perfect preparation for the tournament."

Belgium begin their Euro 2020 campaign on June 12 against Russia in St Petersburg.
 

Belgium squad in full:

Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet, Matz Sels.

Defenders: Toby Alderweireld, Dedryck Boyata, Jason Denayer, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen.

Wing-backs: Yannick Carrasco, Timothy Castagne, Nacer Chadli, Thorgan Hazard, Thomas Meunier.

Midfielders: Kevin De Bruyne, Leander Dendoncker, Dennis Praet, Youri Tielemans, Hans Vanaken, Axel Witsel.

Forwards: Jeremy Doku, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Leandro Trossard.

Strikers: Michy Batshuayi, Christian Benteke, Romelu Lukaku.

Zinedine Zidane insisted the only focus for Real Madrid should be their pivotal LaLiga finale against Villarreal, rather than his future at the club.

Los Blancos remain in the hunt to retain their league title thanks to a 1-0 win away at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, defender Nacho Fernandez the unlikely hero with the only goal of the game.

It appeared at one stage as if the reigning champions would be in pole position with one more round of fixtures to play, only for Atletico Madrid to produce an impressive comeback at home against Osasuna.

A late Luis Suarez winner at the Wanda Metropolitano has Diego Simeone's side two points ahead of their city rivals in the table.

Reports in the Spanish media on the day of the Athletic game said Zidane had informed the Madrid squad he will be leaving at the end of the campaign, but the Frenchman refused to be drawn on his situation.

"How am I going to tell my players that I am leaving now, when we are putting everything on the line?" Zidane said in his post-match press conference.

"When you say things from the outside, you can say whatever you want. I am not ever going to say that to my players.

"At the end of the season we will see, but now I am in this and am focused on the last match.

"We cannot talk constantly about my future; the most important thing is the last match that we have to play."

Zidane opted to retain the same forward line that started the 4-1 win over Granada on Thursday, meaning Eden Hazard once again had to settle for a place on the bench.

The Belgium international was introduced in the 77th minute in place of Rodrygo, with Zidane insisting it was simply a selection call made by himself, rather than any particular issue.

"Nothing has happened with Hazard, it is just that others are playing at the moment," he said.

"I have to choose the 11 and nothing more. He is contributing like everyone else.”

While Madrid host Villarreal in the Spanish capital next Sunday, Atletico have a trip to relegation-threatened Real Valladolid.

Zidane's side are on a 17-game unbeaten run in LaLiga, their best streak in a single campaign during his two stints in charge.

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