Thorgan Hazard didn’t have to think too long. Even if he looks at all the news on his phone, “it is the most important goal of my career,” emphasized the 28-year-old Belgian professional footballer from the Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund shortly before midnight at the Estadio La Cartuja. He had already been told it was a Cristiano Ronaldo goal, he reported in a good mood. “If you have Hazard (s) you don’t need a Ronaldo”, was the headline of the German-language Belgian newspaper “Grenzecho”.
The Belgians’ 1-0 round of 16 victory over Ronaldo and the Portuguese was something like a title test for the “golden generation”, which is still waiting for the right refinement. And after the deeply disappointed defending champion has been dethroned, the next tough opponent awaits them with Italy in Munich. The problem: what about Thorgan Hazard’s brother Eden and what about playmaker Kevin De Bruyne?
“We will need 48 hours,” said coach Roberto Martínez about the pending diagnoses: “We have not yet received any information from the doctors.” Captain Hazard had to come out shortly before the end: muscle problems. De Bruyne had it much earlier, on the ankle. “We need these players,” said Thorgan Hazard. After the return journey that night from Andalusia to the Belgian camp in Tubize, both players should be examined in detail. Coach Martínez didn’t want to give up any tendencies at all.
“It couldn’t be more dreamlike”
But the evening in Andalusia also proved that this Belgian team consists of more than De Bruyne and also more than Romelu Lukaku, who remained as ineffective in the duel of the star strikers with Ronaldo as the five-time world footballer. The only difference is that for the European champions from 2016 after five Ronaldo goals out of seven goals in the group stage without a Ronaldo goal in the first knockout game – and for the Belgians just another one for exuberant cheers from the team and the fans.
“I just tried my luck, it couldn’t be more fantastic,” emphasized Thorgan Hazard. While Ronaldo had to struggle with a lot of soul pain and initially remained silent, the “Man of the Match” spoke of strong feelings that are preparing for his country to hit. Shortly before the break, he had pulled outside the penalty area. Rui Patricio in the Portuguese goal had previously taken a step into the wrong corner and was then unable to clear the ball.
What followed after that was the injury-related replacement of De Bruyne, which in turn minimized the moments of relief against the now oppressive and pressing Portuguese. Belgium, the ensemble for elegant, beautiful offensive football had to show other strengths. “It was the greatest test we could have,” said coach Martínez and admitted: they would not have passed it two years ago.
This time already: The three defensive chain, which together is a whopping 101 years old, the midfield in which three Dortmund professionals shone in Thorgan Hazard, Axel Witsel and Thomas Meunier, the attackers – collective determination. In addition, a little luck, among other things, with a post shot just before the end from Portuguese BVB professional Raphaël Guerreiro. And a secure backing in goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
“I haven’t had much to do in the last three games, but I knew that wouldn’t be the case against Portugal,” said the keeper. Italy will also be difficult, but they have shown “that we are ready for it,” stressed Courtois. As a coach you couldn’t be prouder, said Martínez, referring to his team, which also came up with great efficiency – six shots on goal and one goal as opposed to 24 attempts by the Portuguese. “That’s what a winning team needs,” was the coach’s conclusion. He didn’t have to think twice about it either.